Most of us know that conflict is inevitable, especially with kids. One study found that when you look at parent/toddler interactions, there is a conflict every three minutes. So if conflict is a normal part of life, what’s the big deal?
The bad news
The big deal is how we fight. Respectful discussions can be productive. Less respectful forms of communication, like blaming, yelling, the silent treatment, etc., negatively impact our health. They also impact the health of our kids. Did you know that:
- 6 months old babies have physical reactions to adult arguments. This can be seen in increased blood pressure and heart rates.
- Babies pick up on arguments even while they sleep. If you scan the brains of sleeping babies while they listen to angry sounding speech, the areas of the brain that regulate emotion and stress become active,
- Some researchers claim they can tell you how much fighting is in your house based on your child’s urine. They take a 24-hour sample and then measure the stress hormones.
- We build brains based on our experiences. Babies who experience ongoing conflict build strong neural connections for angry voices. Their brains activate more in response to hearing angry voices than do babies from homes with less conflict.
- Kids who witness parents fighting have more trouble regulating their emotion. They have more trouble calming themselves. It puts them at an increased risk for mental health problems like depression and anxiety. It can increase behaviour problems like disobedience, aggression, and antisocial behaviour. It can even impact how they do at school, their self-esteem, their quality of their sleep, and the levels of inflammation in the body. (Inflammation in the body is associated with various diseases.)
The good news
The first piece of good news is that not all conflict is equal. Healthy conflict can be very positive and productive. In the program this week we have a ton of strategies for managing conflict successfully.
The second piece of good news is that conflict resolutions skills are not innate but learned. This means that everyone has the ability to learn healthy conflict resolution. Plus, it means whatever skills you have (or don’t have) right now is a result of your environment.You have some control over your child’s environment. Let’s set them up for success!
The last piece of good news is that healthy conflict resolution has many benefits. It prevents the negative impacts listed above. Plus, kids who have strong conflict resolution skills:
- Have better grades, better language skills, better self-confidence, and better self-esteem,
- Are better at understanding and managing their own emotions and are generally calmer and friendlier,
- Are better at understanding other people’s emotions and have higher levels of empathy,
- Are more popular, even in preschool (other kids notice them and want to interact with them). This may be because they are more interested in cooperating with others than controlling them.
- Will argue with you more respectfully when they are teenagers,
- Are more likely to say no when offered drugs or alcohol (compared with kids who were not allowed to argue with their parents), and
- Will take these skills forward into their social, education and professional interactions.
Remember, conflict is inevitable. But how we handle it is within our control. And that is a skill we can teach our kids.
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