Sometimes, It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
There has never been a set of parents who get along or agree 100% of the time. In fact, if you did get along all of the time, it would be boring and a little weird. However, when you have children, it’s important to remember they are always around and that they hear far more than you realize when you are in the midst of a disagreement. To avoid confusion or even fear on your child’s part, try setting some house guidelines for the times you and your partner are disagreeing.
- Watch your tone of voice. Sarcasm can be used in humor. However, it can also be a subtle way of being mean when talking to someone else. While young kids rarely understand how to use sarcasm, they are able to recognize meanness. Avoid insulting your partner with sarcasm around your kids (and in general). You may not be shouting but your child is picking up on the tone of your discussion. If this is a regular occurrence, don’t be surprised when your child starts talking to you and others in the same condescending way.
- Disagree privately. This might seem obvious but “private” means different things to different people. In the most general sense, if you come home from work and learn that your partner has dealt a punishment to your child with which you disagree. Wait until your child has gone to sleep (Sleep! Not just to bed.) to discuss, quietly, what you would have done differently. Children are not stupid. They will note there is a chance to negotiate a punishment or house rule very quickly. Soon, you’ll find your child going to one parent asking him to undermine the other. Do not let your varying positions on parenting divide you! Find ways to compromise.
- We all make mistakes. For most couples, even the most responsible, there will be times when your child will witness you losing your tempers with each other. There’s no need to beat yourself up when this happens. Instead, wait until things have calmed down and sit with your child and explain. Tell him that he had nothing to do with your argument and that, even though you were angry with your partner, you still love your partner and you both love your child very much. You may have to repeat this discussion a few times to completely reassure your child.
When is the last time you had an argument with your partner and how did you handle your feelings in front of your children? Members can comment below.
Barb, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS