Children are sensitive, emotional and vocal little beings. They have their own needs and desires, which rarely align with what the adults believe is best for them. Children can be quick to anger and it is inevitable that, as their parent, you will conflict with them. Arguments are a natural part of family life, although they don’t have to cause long-term damage to your relationships. How do you sensitively handle rows with children and the reconciliation that follows?
Accept Arguments as Natural
Arguments are a natural part of being together as a family unit. As children grow older their need to assert their independence also becomes stronger. If they are not able to assert that independence in a way in which their parents approve, then the risk of conflict becomes high.
Arguments can also happen because of the different temperaments of the individuals involved. One or more family members might be quick to anger, or become easily impassioned. Although it’s possible to account for this, and individuals can take steps to control themselves better; temperament is an aspect of personality that cannot be erased.
Calm yourself Down before Approaching the Children
It is natural to get angry, frustrated or upset during an argument. However, these emotions are no use when attempting to reconcile your differences. If your feelings are running too high, you will just cause a second fight. Take 5 minutes to regain your sense of calmness, before approaching your children again. The fact that you are calm will also have a calming effect on your fuming children.
When you speak to them again, think about your body language. Make sure it is neither excessively confrontational, nor defensive. Keep your voice lowered and words measured. Almost unconsciously, your children will start to copy you.
Give your Children Time to Calm Down
Not only should you take a break to calm yourself down, your children will also need a cooling off period. Allow them some private space, think alone, and regroup.
Empathy is a way of acknowledging the other part’s injured feelings, without caving in to unreasonable behaviour, or compromising yourself. “I understand that it is upsetting for you to have your weekend plans cancelled – especially after you put a lot of time into organising them.”
Apologise and Accept Apologies
As with empathy, it is possible to apologize for hurting feelings without apologising for actions. Think carefully about whether you (the adult) should apologise for your part in the disagreement. Effective parenting means that you should stand your ground, even if you are doing something unpopular, so long as your decision is in your children’s best interests.
To avoid re-stoking the fires, any apology given should be sincere and unequivocal. Avoid any “but” or “nevertheless”, as this will just re-ignite the argument. Accept any apology offered in a similarly unequivocal manner.
Not all battles are worth fighting on repeat. Think about whether there are ways to make a compromise that keeps all parties satisfied.
Be Prepared to Back Off
If it looks as if you are about to descend into another argument again, you should respectfully back off. Tell your child: “I can see you are still upset and angry about this. We will continue this conversation after you have had a proper chance to calm down and think.” Repeated arguments are unlikely to solve problems, and will just lead to more hurt feelings, and inflated emotions.