Question: A 6-year-old runs up to her room when parents fight in the kitchen. How can this situation be handled better by parents? What should the parents tell the child, if anything?
Answer: Fighting is a normal part of relationships. I worry more about families that don't ever fight than families that do have fights.
But fighting has to be done in a certain way. It's really the process of the fight that means the most things.
So, some tips for how to have a good fight.
One is to respect the other individual and allow equal airtime.
The other is when kids are around, be aware that's the fight is going to leak, or the tension is going to leak.
In this case, the child was in the kitchen, but in other cases the child might not be around but they pick up on it.
If your fight occurs with adult themes that have to do with sex or money or other problems, I would take it into a room where leaking is less likely to happen.
And most importantly, resolve the conflict. Kiss and make up, agree to disagree or whatever.
In this situation I'd bring the 6-year-old back down because she's already experienced a fight and I would say to her, "You know, Mommy and Daddy had a fight, we disagree, but we love each other and we've kissed and made up and everything's okay."
If there's still disagreement, say, "We still disagree with each other, but we're okay."
It's really not a good idea to deny or avoid a fight. If there's silence and the child knows that there's an ongoing conflict, it's going to be very difficult for the child. She may be worried that something bad is going to happen or Mommy and Daddy are going to break up or is somebody going to go away? Is someone going to get hurt?
So, don't let the child sit with any uncomfortable or difficult feelings. Explain it. And if you don't agree with each other, just say that we disagree with each other.
In certain situations, like when parents are divorced or separated, experts have found that kids do best when there's a warm and loving relationship with each child between each of the parents and the parents have as harmonious a relationship as possible. So, try to think about resolving conflict and demonstrating that for your children.