Family conflict: An open letter to children… and their parents

(This page can be read to children by parents or teachers who can answer the questions children might have)

All families go through struggles.  Family members feel all kinds of feelings toward each other at different times.  We all feel these feelings, sometimes even more than one feeling at once.

Conflict happens in every family.  Sometimes there is fighting, yelling, sometimes even hitting, sometimes there is silence, crying, or ignoring.  Kids might fight with each other, and they might need an adult to help solve the disagreement.

But when parents fight with each other, kids often can get confused about what to do.  Kids often feel like they are the reason their parents get angry at each other.  That is a normal feeling for kids to have when their parents fight.

Family communication is really important.  It is a good thing when parents help their children understand that adults get mad just like children do, and that adult arguments are never the fault of the children, even when the fights are about how to raise the children.  Parents have to solve their problems with each other, and not expect their kids to solve those adult problems.

These are the kinds of feelings kids might have when parents fight, and there are probably lots of other feelings, too:

    • Feeling lost, alone, rejected, or punished
    • Feeling very guilty but not knowing why
    • Feeling panicked or like they should do something right away
    • Feeling like they should take the side of one parent or the other
    • Feeling like they can and should help their parents get back together
    • Feeling very sad, very angry, very confused, or very afraid
    • Feeling like hurting themselves or like they deserve to be hurt
    • Feeling like beating up one or both of their parents to get them to stop fighting
    • Feeling like their family is falling apart and not being able to stop it from happening
    • Worrying about younger siblings
    • Wanting their parents to get a divorce and get it over with
    • Not being able to concentrate at school or with friends
    • Getting angry very easily, at their teacher, with projects, or with their friends, brothers and sisters
    • Feeling afraid that one or both of their parents is going to hurt them
    • Wanting to escape or hide
    • Wanting to do something violent or destructive or mean
    • Not wanting to get their parents in trouble
    • Not wanting to get themselves in trouble

When kids feel this way in their families, the family needs to talk about the problem to help the kids feel better.  It is the parents’ responsibility to help kids feel safe enough to share their feelings about their parents and anything else.

Sometimes parents must ask for help from another adult, like a therapist, an adult friend, adult family members, perhaps even adults who can help in an emergency.  Notice that I always said “adults.”  Adults need adult help, and kids mostly can’t provide that help — it’s not even possible!

If you are worried about your parents or other people in your family, either talk to them about your worries, or talk to a different safe family member, or a trustworthy adult like your teacher, school social worker, or a therapist if you have one.  You have a right to ask for help when you feel terrible.

There are strong and safe adults around you who can help.  Sometimes those adults are your parents, and sometimes not.  If you have questions, ask a parent, a teacher, or other safe adult.


Copyright © 2011 by Marilee Snyder

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