As parents, do you sometimes feel the weight of the realization that little eyes are watching you for cues and lessons as to how they will behave and the type of people they will become? We do. It used to feel like significant pressure… “Oh no! What if we mess them up as people?!” Every mistake, every failure felt like a devastation because we knew that every experience was shaping their thoughts, actions and idea of what normal is. Well, thankfully, we no longer put that kind of pressure on ourselves, but we do still take our role as teachers very seriously.
One recent teaching opportunity came a few days ago when we had another chance to teach our children about healthy resolution of conflict. Here’s what happened…
A few days ago, one of us did something that caused about an hour of unnecessary stress on the rest of us. A relatively minor infraction, but a recurring irritant. This led to us having an animated discussion… or heated fellowship….ummmm… Disagreement? Yeah, so basically, we had an argument. We’re human. It happens from time to time. This time, though, our sons were in the car to witness the argument. Now, it’s important to note that over the years, we’ve matured in our communication in such a way that even our arguments are child-friendly. There is no shouting, cursing, name-calling, or any other damaging behaviors. Nonetheless, it’s clearly a moment of conflict. We believe that it’s not bad for our children to see an example of healthy conflict resolution. We want them to know that conflicts are a normal part of relationships, and that it is possible to manage conflict in such a way that both parties feel loved and respected in the process.
Following our discussion, we turned our discussion towards the boys and asked them their thoughts on what had just happened. The conversation went like this…
“Guys, what just happened?”
“Mommy and Daddy were having an argument.”
“How do you know that? Were we shouting?”
“Did we call each other names?”
“Did we hit each other?”
“Well, how did you know we were having an argument?”
“Because you said the same thing over and over.”
So there you have it folks. Even without the yelling, screaming, and disrespect, our children can pick up on conflict simply because of the shift in energy. Since it’s there, we prefer to deal with “the elephant in the room” by having direct conversations with them, as opposed to having them create their own narrative based on their limited understanding.
Through this experience and others, we’ve gotten several takeaways from our intention to proactively teach our kids about these important lessons. Three that we will highlight:
1. It’s important to model appropriate, healthy behaviors, including demonstrating how to manage conflict with love and respect. One day, they may be married, and it may help them to have had a healthy example of how to communicate in such a way that builds rather than destroys.
2. Sometimes when children don’t see demonstrations of healthy conflict in marriage, they may have the impression that “good” marriages are without any conflict. That could possibly result in them having unrealistic expectations in their own marriage. We talked to a couple recently that shared that the wife grew up without ever witnessing her parents have conflict. As a result, even minor disagreements within her own marriage have left her feeling devastated, wondering if her marriage is going to last, since at times they don’t disagree (even though their disagreements are extremely mild).
3. When your children witness you disagree, make sure they see the grace and love between you, as well. Help them process what they’ve witnessed, rather than have them create their own narrative.
Remember that we’re always teaching our children something, whether we intend to or not. It’s not that we have to be “perfect” parents; perfection doesn’t exist. It’s more about being intentional in the way we parent them. We must be intentional about the way we live; for us and for them. And in those areas that we’re still growing in, be candid with them about it. We have age-appropriate conversations that open up all sorts of discussions about grace, forgiveness, and love.