When you and your spouse fight or just get extremely angry in front of your child, they will remember it vividly. In many cases, seeing their parents fight can negatively affect them on the long term. So what do you do to comfort them?
Anger is one of the easiest emotions to access. For a stressed out parent, it’s even easier. The caveat here is staying calm becomes so more difficult. So when parents fight, it’s a disaster for everyone — especially for your kids.
Who finds it easy to stay calm as a parent anyway? You’re sleep deprived, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re being pressured by people around you to be the best parent.
People tell us not to lose our tempers around our kids but we sometimes do anyway. We just have to remember that it’s upsetting to children and may even affect them psychologically.
When displays of anger can cause negative effects
Research suggests that the stress of being exposed to frequent situations when parents fight can create behavioural patterns that negatively affect kids later in life. This can include socialisation, emotional management, and self-esteem.
Parents’ volatility to anger can cause anxiety issues and obsessive compulsive disorder in children.
You should always try to keep your anger down. But if you must fight, keep your fights with your spouse away from your kids. If fighting in front of your kids can’t be avoided, be prepared for the possibility that your kids will freak out when they see you angry.
What kids see, they carry throughout their lives
“Children constantly learn from their environments, especially their primary relationships,” said Shanna Donhauser, a family therapist and childhood mental health specialist in Seattle.
“Rupture and conflict are inevitable. But repairing those ruptures strengthens relationships and builds the foundation of trust, comfort, and safety.”
Donhauser identified four steps that can guide parents in helping their children work through the frightening experience of witnessing a parent’s anger.
It needs work — hard work — because acting like it didn’t happen is not a solution. In fact, it can only worsen the situation. Leaving your children to process the emotions they felt after seeing their parents fight or get angry can let them draw unhealthy conclusions.
How to calm down a child after parents fight
1. Calm down
You can’t calm anybody down if you’re the one who’s not calm. So before you even attempt to console a frightened child, you need to get a firm grip on your own emotions.
“It’s like the airline safety rule – ‘secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others,’” Donhauser explained. “You cannot support your child when you are still angry or in the process of calming down.”
If you’re having difficulty calming down or it’s just taking a long time, take a walk. Go to the gym. Obsessively clean the house. Just cool down. But remember to explain first to your child what’s happening, and what’s going to happen. Reassure them that you will talk to them about what happened after you calm down.
Parents should know how to empathise with their child. Do you remember those times when, as a child, you saw your parents (or any two adults in your life) fight in front of you? How did it make you feel? What did you wish they did for you to make you feel better?
If your kids have seen you angry, you should see the situation and the aftermath from their perspective. Any adult is bigger, stronger, louder, and scarier than them. Was there violence when you fought with your partner? Did either of you throw something across the room or break something?
“Don’t do this until you are calm,” warned Donhauser. “It will likely reactivate your emotions a little.”
Once you’re calm and have empathised enough with your child’s experience, make a sincere effort to reconnect with your child. Invite your child to sit in a safe and comfortable space. It’s a good start.
Some kids don’t want to directly talk to you about what happened. They will often want to play as they work through their emotions. And that’s fine.
“Share your intentions and emotions,” said Donhauser. “Then bring your child into the repair process so that they can co-create solutions to this problem.”
Donhauser adds: “Children are creative and often come up with great solutions when given the opportunity. When invited to create solutions, they are also more likely to remain cooperative and follow through.”
After the previous step, you must find opportunities to connect with your child. Take her on a walk, bring her to the park or the mall, read a book together, or play together. Just do something that you both like — together.
Remember, this isn’t about making up for what happened. Put that thinking in the bin. When you do things together, it’s all about showing how the relationship is still strong despite what happened.
How to make a child feel better after parents fight — a summary
If you need to remember the steps in which you can help your child recover from witnessing how parents fight, remember these four steps:
- Calm down. Regulate your own emotions before trying to regulate your child’s.
- Empathise. Reflect on what the child has seen and experienced. When parents fight or get angry, it’s frightening and threatening to a child. Put yourself in your child’s shoes.
- Repair. Explain what happened and how your kid experienced it. Be honest with your emotions. Ask your kid for advice or how they can help.
- Connect. Don’t make up for or cover up what happened. Reconnect and and have a normal parent-child connection
When parents fight, your child is more important
Parents must realise that a display of anger affects children on multiple levels. They not only feel physically threatened by how parents fight and get angry, but they feel that the relationships itself is also in danger.
So it’s important why parents must maintain control. If they cannot maintain control, they have to consider seeking professional help. When you lose control, do not let ego take precedence over what’s important — your child and your relationship together.
Do not be afraid of admitting that you’ve lost control. Your child is more important, so make sure their feelings come first. It’s a parent’s duty to make difficult choices.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: 4 Ways you can show your kids a healthy marriage.