Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Good News and Bad News about Fighting in the Family

What is considered fighting?

Joey comes into the kitchen wanting a cookie.  It’s just before dinner and the smell of dinner is adding to Joey’s hunger.  Dad is cooking dinner and knows if he gives Joey a cookie it will take the edge off his appetite for dinner.  They argue about whether or not Joey can have a cookie.  Would you consider this a fight?

What is fighting for some people is not fighting for others.  Raised voices –  yelling  – hitting – which of these is your definition of fighting?

When asked for their definition of fighting, parents of preschoolers responded with answers such as – conflicted communication, not listening, not hearing, arguing, punching, hitting, yelling,  arguing in a strong way beyond reason and logic, walking away from the issue, misunderstandings, disagreements, raised blood pressure, lots of anger and frustration, loss of rational thought,  high stress and more.

In this post fighting is considered any conflict, from a minor squabble to a physical battle.

What is good about fighting in a family?

Fighting prepares children for conflict in life, both at home in the family and in the world at large.  Children who grow up in families where there never is any fighting, or parents hide fighting from the children or fighting is not allowed, are not prepared to deal with conflict whether it be with family members or with other people outside the family.  Children need to experience fighting to learn how to handle it.  Then they can better protect themselves and those they care about through life.

Because there will always be conflicts in families, it is not a question of if but how members of a family fight.  There are different ways to fight and it is really beneficial for children to learn to fight in a healthy constructive ways.

What is unhealthy fighting?

In unhealthy fighting parents and children try to get what they want from each other and do not care if they hurt, inconvenience or harm each other. They argue and yell, but they never get to a better place.  After the fight is over there are just bad feelings and a sense of frustration. No resolution. No positive change.

I call these the merry-go-round fights.  It’s like getting on a merry-go-round, going round and round, and when you get off you’re no further ahead than before you got on.  At first you’re willing to get on the merry-go-round, that is, you’re willing to engage in a fight, but after awhile you realize that there is no point in spending the time and energy because you will be in the same place, maybe even worse, after it’s over.  So you stop engaging in fighting.  You withdraw. You disengage from whoever it is you’re fighting with – maybe others as well.

Fighting that is loud, excessive, violent or out of control is terrifying for children.  Yelling terrifies children and makes their bodies cringe in distress. They can get so traumatized from it that they avoid conflict at all costs or become bullies themselves.  They often grow up to be fearful adults or bullies and are emotionally handicapped.

What is healthy fighting?

In healthy fighting parents and children stand up for themselves and consider each other as they are do so.  They try to find win/win outcomes. The fight gets resolved and the relationship improves.  Everyone feels good about the outcome.  The fight is worthwhile.

It’s really helpful for children to watch their parent have a fight with each other and resolve the fight in a productive way.  They learn from this that fighting, even though it may be distressful, is normal and can be constructive.  They learn how a marriage and couple relationship works – that there will be fighting and that it can be resolved.

Healthy fighting prepares children for life.  They experience it and learn to tolerate it.  They learn to take part and work toward constructive outcomes.  They learn, through experience and modeling of their parents that fighting can make for better relationships and a better life.

To learn to handle differences and resolve problems see the protocol: Sooner Better than Later. It is designed for couples but is appropriate for family members too.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea