How to support your child during parental conflict
It is hard for children when their parents argue. We try and do our best but sometimes arguments can not be avoide. So how can we help our children feel safe and make sense of what is going on, even when there is a lot of conflict?
Child psychologist Malin Bergström gives advice!
When we talk we make sense of what is happening
When we talk about what is going on in our lives we help children understand their experiences in their family and with us as parents.
If there are conflicts between the parents, it may be wise to confirm this to the child. Children understand that when you are angry, you can sometimes say and do stupid things that you do not mean and that it can affect others even though it is not the intention.
Tell the child that the conflicts are not their fault
Children need to hear that adults are always responsible for their actions and their arguments. It is never the child’s job to resolve them, no matter what the conflicts are about.
The responsibility for the arguments always lie with the parents, never the child
You can say something like “even though we as parents do not get along right now, it is our job to fix that, not yours. And the reason we do not get a long right now has nothing to do with you”. Confirm that you see how your adult conflicts affect your child.
Pay close attention to how you express yourself
It is important to have a little tact here and talk about what is happening without going into details and burdening the child with too much information about your adult relationship. It can draw the child into the conflict instead of protecting the child.
It is also crucial for the child’s well-being to never speak ill of their other parent.
Put your own needs aside when talking to the child
In order for your child to confide in you, you need to put your own needs aside and listen. When listening, you focus on the child and its needs instead of your own situation. An adult with empathy and the ability to reason and understand context is very helpful, especially if the child’s own relationship with the other parent is difficult.
Keep talking and checking in with your child
When our own life situation is hard, we as adults can forget to talk to our children. We may also be afraid to ask the child how they are doing because we do not want to hear that the child might be sad or upset. Therefore, it is sometimes easier to think that we should not intrude and that the child will surely tell us if they need something from us. However, research show that children wants us to ask them and show that we care, again and again and again. Talking to your child will help you understand how to facilitate and protect your child. Talking also makes the child feel less alone if they are struggling.
If the child is feeling low for a long time – get outside help!
For some children, parental conflict and separation is so hard that it is difficult for the child to feel okay without outside help. It can even be a combination of things happening at home and at school or with friends. If this is the case it is good to help the child talk to an outside adult with experience of counseling children. External help is available from the school counselor, youth guidance centres and BUP (Barn- och ungdomspsykiatrin).
- It is important to make sense of the situation by talking to the child about what is happening.
- Confirm that you see how the arguments affect your child.
- Put your own needs aside when talking to the child and listen when the child is talking to you (no backtalk from parent allowed).
- Children need to be told that parental conflicts are never their fault.
- Stick to the facts and do not drag the child into your conflicts by overinforming the child about what is happening between you as adults.
- Never speak ill of the child’s other parent.
- Keep talking to the child, check in and listen how the child is doing over time.
- If the child is feeling low for a long time – get outside help!