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Modeling healthy problem-solving for your kids

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To work together effectively as parents, one of the best things you can do is to maintain healthy interactions and habits in your adult relationship. A mutually respectful and caring partnership not only benefits the two of you but provides a sense of security and well-being for your child.

Your relationship also sets a powerful example. From the two of you, your child is learning how to treat others, handle differences and form deep bonds. When you and your partner support each other, tackle problems together and work through frustrations, you’re giving your child lessons in building a healthy relationship.

Although it’s unwise to hash out parenting disagreements in front of your child, kids may actually benefit from seeing their parents work through other kinds of differences in a constructive manner.

When you handle these differences calmly and respectfully, you’re teaching your child invaluable conflict resolution skills, such as how to handle disagreement and negotiate compromise.

You’re also modeling healthy ways of regulating strong emotions, such as stress, anger or frustration. What’s more, you’re showing that conflict isn’t something to fear or avoid but is a normal part of any healthy relationship.

Healthy conflict can also help knit you and your partner more tightly together. When you know that you can work through your differences and still come out OK on the other side, you feel stronger and more secure in your relationship — and that allows for a greater sense of cooperation, trust and teamwork.

Here are some healthy problem-solving habits you and your partner can draw on when facing disagreements or conflicts.

  • Talk it out — When facing a problem or disagreement, make time to discuss it together. Choose a time when you’re both calm and able to listen with an open mind. Give each other turns to express your point of view. When your partner is speaking, try to truly focus on what he or she is saying instead of thinking about the points you want to make.
  • Stay focused — Keep the conversation centered on the problem or issue at hand. Avoid pulling other topics or grievances into the mix, criticizing one another or assigning blame. Instead, focus on working together to resolve your differences and come up with a solution.
  • Stay engaged — Facing conflict can sometimes be uncomfortable. It may be tempting to shut down the conversation and withdraw. Only by sticking it out will you be able to reach a satisfying compromise. If necessary, take a temporary break by saying that you need a chance to calm down and think. Then return to the conversation ready to engage.
  • Work toward understanding — Make a genuine effort to put yourselves in each other’s shoes. This can help you better understand your partner’s perspective. It can also help you handle a conflict with greater sensitivity. When you take the time to appreciate where your partner is coming from, you’ll be more likely to find a way to incorporate each of your viewpoints into a compromise that satisfies you both. In many cases, joint problem-solving will yield a richer environment for your child to grow in.
  • Find balance — There may be occasions where you realize that you simply aren’t going to see eye to eye on an issue. If it’s something your partner feels a lot more strongly about, consider letting him or her take the lead in making the decision. He or she can do the same for you when something comes up that you have stronger feelings about. This give and take allows for you to “agree to disagree” in a way that maintains a sense of balance and harmony.

 

This is an excerpt from the Mayo Clinic Guide to Raising a Healthy Child.
Angela Mattke

Angela C. Mattke, M.D.

Dr. Mattke is a general pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Rochester, Minnesota.

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