Do your parents fight a lot? Does their fighting get really intense? Seeing your parents argue is a hard experience to deal with, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the conflict, help them understand how they are affecting you, and cope with the aftermath of an argument.
You don’t want to become the focus of the argument. Avoid taking sides and try not to participate at all; it’s not your job to referee.
If a parent tries to drag you into an argument, be honest and say that you don’t want to choose sides. This is your right.
Find a safe place in your home.
It’s important to have a sanctuary you can retreat to if the fighting stresses you out. Having a place to go will spare you from having to see and hear these intense exchanges. Here are some different options to consider:
Hang out in the backyard if you have one.
Go to your room if it’s private and you can’t hear the fighting.
Go to someone else’s home.
If you don’t have a safe spot in your own home, go somewhere else. Try a neighbor that you’re close to. You can also try another family member or a friend, if they’re in walking/bicycling distance, or if you drive.
Watch your favorite movie or listen to music.
If you can’t leave the house, at least keep yourself occupied so you don’t have to witness the fighting. Something with volume you can turn up may be your best option. Use headphones if you have them. Additional things you can do:
Finish homework. Use the opportunity to take care of yourself and your responsibilities.
Read a book, especially if the noise level is low or you can wear headphones.
Play video games. These can be great to take your mind off the argument.
Avoid blaming yourself.
Even if your parents sometimes argue ‘’about’’ you, avoid thinking that you’re the cause of the dispute. You can’t ‘’make’’ them fight, they choose to do it based on ways of interacting they’ve learned in the past. Nothing you do is enough to force them into having an argument.
Have your own healthy relationships.
One great way to protect yourself from the stress of parents fighting is to develop your own relationships. Research shows that strong social support is good news for your health. It’s even possible to develop positive relationships if your parents haven’t been the greatest role models. It may take a little work, but as long as you focus on important aspects like communication and trust-building, you can escape the cycle of harmful relationships:
Learn to deal with divorced or separated parents.
If your parents are separated or divorced, there are steps you can take to make their fighting easier on yourself, such as:
Ask your parents to consider your feelings. Divorce and separation can really shake up your life. When it comes to who you’re spending time with, where you’re staying, what school you’re going to, and other issues, ask your parents to include you in the discussion.
Avoid worrying about the divorce itself that much. The main source of harm for you is parental conflict, regardless of whether your parents are divorced or not. Spend your energy dealing with the conflict.
Tell your parents it hurts to see them fight.
Sometimes parents don’t even realize the effect they have on their kids. Be sure to express your feelings to your parents when the argument is over. Avoid bringing it up during the argument, which may only make things worse if they feel guilty. They may also blame the other parent if emotions are high.
Try to be calm while expressing yourself. Avoid egging them on or trying to guilt trip them. Your aim is to help them understand what you’re feeling so they will reconsider their actions. You’re not trying to get payback.
Educate them about the effects of fighting.
Research shows that bitter disputes between parents can impair the emotional development of children. Psychologists have known for years that a secure attachment between parent and child is important for healthy development. Recent research suggests that perceived security between caregivers is also significant. Unresolved conflict between parents can cause anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.
Ask them to learn about good and bad fighting.
Some disagreements are natural and may help to solve problems. Other kinds of fighting hurt everyone involved, damaging relationships and creating feelings of insecurity. Here are the characteristics of different kinds of fighting:
Good: compromise. Good fights end with people agreeing to do something differently in order to make things better. For example, if they think dinner should start at different times, they can compromise by choosing a new time that they can both agree on.
Good: positive statements despite having a difference of opinion. Disagreeing doesn’t have to mean disliking each other or not appreciating things about each other. For example, one of your parents might say, “I’m angry that you forgot to take out the trash, but you normally do a good job helping out around the house.”
Bad: personal insults. For example, name-calling and insulting each other’s ability to be a good parent/partner are harmful ways to handle conflict.
Bad: stonewalling, or refusing to acknowledge the other person. The silent treatment can be just as bad as yelling, because it leaves unresolved tension in the air and teaches poor communication skills.
Suggest they argue in private.
This reasonable request can help spare you from the emotionally damaging impact of your parents’ arguments. Your parents fighting in front of you disrupts the stability of your home environment. It also teaches you that it’s okay to engage in “bad fighting” with people as a way of trying to resolve conflict.
Tell your parents that it would be less painful for you if they took arguments to their room or another private place.
Mention couples counseling or family therapy.
Parents who have difficulty expressing their needs without engaging in “bad fighting” can benefit from seeing a professional therapist. Couples counseling can help people address many different issues they may be having, such as:
Communication difficulties and not understanding each other.
Practical issues such as finances.
Conflicts about how to raise children.
Understand that some fighting is normal.
There’s actually nothing wrong with having a disagreement. Expressing differences of opinion is healthy in a relationship. Bottling emotions up can cause more damage in the long-run than the occasional dispute. Fights only become problems when they happen consistently and the emotions involved are really intense. As long as your parents make up after fights and don’t have them too often, you probably don’t have anything to worry about.
Get support from an older sibling or friend.
It’s important to have sources of support other than your parents, who may be too tired or frustrated after a fight to comfort you and explain what’s going on. If you’re close to an older sibling, approach him or her and ask if you can talk about your parents arguing. Tell your older sibling if you’re worried about anything in particular, such as a potential divorce or one of your parents being hurt. If you have a close friend that you trust, you can approach him or her as well. They may not be able to fix the problem for you, but if he or she is a good friend then they will listen and be there for you.
Talk to your school counselor.
School counselors are trained to deal with personal problems such as coping with parents fighting. They are at your disposal if you attend a school that has one. You don’t have to tell them anything you don’t want. You can say that you’re dealing with family conflict and need someone to talk to about it. If you’re not sure how to get in touch with your school counselor, or if your school even has one, ask one of your teachers.
Avoid jumping to conclusions.
It’s common to worry about your parents’ relationship if you see them having an intense fight. Not all disputes lead to splitting up, though. A lot of the time, fighting has more to do with having a bad day and being frustrated than anything serious. Everyone loses their cool now and then, but it doesn’t always mean that something bad is going to happen. If you’re worried, you can bring this up with your parents and ask them to reassure you.
Parents may fight over personal habits like cleanliness, financial spending, and other details of daily life. Even if it gets heated, these kinds of disputes are common and can be a healthy way to let off steam.
Let off your own steam.
It’s okay to be angry at your parents for fighting. As their child, you may feel like it’s their responsibility to keep you safe and away from harm. If they have intense fights, it’s normal to feel unsafe and frustrated. Here are some activities you can do to channel this anger:
Play sports. Anger can actually be useful in something like football or baseball. Use that extra energy to push toward the end zone or hit a home run. Violence doesn’t help, though, so don’t take it out on the other players.
Open up about your frustration. This can be done with any of the people mentioned earlier: parents, siblings, friends, or counselors. Research suggests that commonly recommended techniques like “punching a pillow” don’t actually work, but exploring your feelings with someone who can help you process them is a more effective kind of venting.