An accidental, unfortunate burst of argument or fight may happen before a child. We may think children don’t understand, but this is not true.

Conflicts, Couples, Child & Mental Health: Expert Riddhi Doshi Patel Speaks

couple conflict management, riddhi doshi patel, children

This week at Baely we have mental health expert Riddhi Doshi Patel, founder-director Rhyns Academy, who holds an in depth interaction with consulting editor Mahima Sharma on how to resolve a conflict, how to end an argument when the child is around. Take a read…

MS: What is the difference between a conflict, an argument, and a fight? 

RDP: A conflict is a serious disagreement, which could be just verbal between two people or even in one's own mind. Like which school we should send our child to or an inner conflict about whether am I a good spouse is enough to keep the other happy. It could be anything - ideas, disagreements, etc anything. 

An argument however is usually a strong verbal disagreement between two or more  people. It can involve insults to each other, demeaning words, gaslighting, and more, but no physical abuse to each other. It is all about debating something you disagree with, very strongly in words. There could be pointing fingers, calling each other names etc. 

Lastly, fights could be very abusive which can involve verbal as well as physical abuse of the other spouse or both. We have couples hitting each other, shouting at each other, and even throwing things at each other. The anger management issues lead to fights and also when couples lack clear communication and comparability, fights erupt more than often. That's why I often say that  an unresolved “conflict” can be a euphemism for a bigger argument and later a fight that could end up being a domestic war!

Let me give you one more example. If one of the partners constantly is criticizing their partner's choice of dress - it is a conflict. If their partner starts saying about how it is their choice and they like the dress - it turns into an argument. If this small thing escalates to talking about the other person's repetitive behaviors such as 'you never like what I'm wearing' or 'why can't you make peace with how I like to dress' - and it involves physical or verbal violence then this has turned into a fight.

MS: As a couple, what could be the complications if one holds an argument/fight before the child?    

RDP: There are two aspects to it: Should one fight before the children? Absolutely not. 

But then an accidental, unfortunate burst of argument or fight may happen before a child. We may think children don’t understand, but this is not true. The child might remember it for years, and it might affect their adulthood, including their self-view, attachment style, personality, and how they deal with their relationships. 

So the whole idea is to be conscious as a couple, and it is always better to talk on a regular basis and resolve petty matters, to ensure these don’t become big. And even if an outburst happens, take it away from the child. 

I had a case, a few years back, where the couple had lots of arguments in front of their 9 year old. For them, it was like, - it's ok to argue, and our child should feel involved in our arguments - but for that 9 year old, it was a fight. Anything which is discussed in a high tone with loud expressions is a fight for a child. He/she will feel that my parents don't love each other, hence they wouldn't love me as well, I am a burden to them, and now I will have to take care of myself as nobody loves me. This and more drastic things he would feel ro do just to catch their attention. He revealed it to me when his parents got him to me as his studies were getting affected due to lack of concentration.

MS: What are the things to keep in mind as a couple, by chance, if an argument erupts in front of children?

RDP: Firstly, ensure you’re in control of your words and actions when around your child. However, if it does happen that you say or do something the child shouldn’t have seen - take it with him to explain the reasons. Sit down with the child and talk about it. Talk about your as well as the child's feelings. Acknowledge it and address it. 

Moreover, calm yourselves down. If you think it has gone out of hand for you or your child, approach a mental health professional and let them help you. Your child will learn that it's ok to disagree but not ok to disrespect each other - acknowledging the problem, accepting where one went wrong, and solving it as a couple is the key here.

MS: A reader’s question: We have a child at home and we don't want to fight in front of her, but not being able to do that is also creating problems between us as a couple. What’s your advice in such a case?

RDP: Please don't let your emotions bottle up - go out for a walk or coffee - talk it out there. If you bottle up your feelings for a very long, it will be a mental health disaster. Address the problems right now when it can be solved. At times sudden fights or outbursts are normal, after all, we are human; but ensure that conscious efforts are taken to accept the views of the other person, that it's not ugly and abusive, and that respect is adhered too.

MS: How do you deal with a spouse who is verbally or physically violent in front of the child/children? 

RDP: Take action—immediate action. Ask them to sit with you for a few minutes and explain to them how much it is affecting the child and what they would want the child to learn. 

Let me explain this with an example: I had a teenager coming to me, who constantly sought validation from outsiders, even as a 17 year old. He was low on confidence and thought that he was not worthy enough to take independent decisions, even in terms of how he must dress up. On probing, the situation boiled down to the fact that the mother was very verbally abusive and critical of the father.  So much so that whenever her son used to make a mistake, she used to comment, “You are just like your father, worthless!" This kind of broke the child to the core and he was severely low on confidence.

The takeaway is that - children learn from observing their parents/siblings so it is crucial that the child does not encounter physical or verbal violence between the parents. It may lead them to be insecure, dependent, fearful, quiet, scared, cranky, aggressive or so. Create a space for your spouse and child to share their emotions and feelings. Take help from professionals if needed.

MS: Another question comes from a reader who asks - A lot of our fights these days are related to our children e.g how should we think about his/her schooling or upbringing in general. How can we reach a consensus to maintain the overall mental health of the family? 

RDP: Listening to your partner is very important - see what they would like to do and why. Understand each other’s points of view and then decide on a common ground maybe by combining ideas on a few things or picking each other’s ideas for a few things. Healthy communication is very important - the child will learn from watching you that communication is the key to solving problems. 

I often tell my clients is  - sit with a paper and pen, and write down the pros and cons of the decisions you want to make in regard to your child, the higher the segment, the decision follows on the same lines. Few tips–

  1. Have a family hug in place - so that even if you have disagreements sometimes, it would not affect you or your child emotionally.
  2. Family time is a must where once a week you sit with your spouse and children and talk about the week, the learnings you had, followed by things and behavior you appreciate about each other- appreciation and care resolve half the problems.
  3. Creating space where your child can share without being judged - Be open to each other in communication as spouses in front of them in a way kids realize that even they can open up easily in front of you. Share small small things - they too will watch and learn. 
  4. Understand and accept that you can have a different opinion than your partner. Start sharing the why of your opinion. Second, understand the emotions of your partner. Third, come to a consensus to make a decision. Do all this when the child is away, even if the talk is about the child’s betterment. Once you have made peace with a decision, sit down with your child and, in an age-appropriate manner, share your common views about the child to him/her - like why would you not allow the child say for a sleepover to another house, or why a late night party alone could put her at risk, etc. Don’t shout at each other or on the child, if the latter disagrees; a logical reasoning will keep you and the child cal, even if the child comes to a consensus the second day. 

MS: Leaving a discord open-ended in front of a child is a bad idea. How to teach the child how to resolve a conflict in life so that he becomes a better human being in life? 

RDP: The best way is to set your own example. Emphasis on the word together and resolve. Let me give you an example: When you start a sentence, you end it with a full stop, right - you don't keep it open. So that's exactly what we need to do when we have an argument or a fight in front of the child. 

Talk some things out in front of your child like being apologetic to each other, saying phrases like ‘I understand your point now’ or ‘I am sorry I mistakenly yelled at you’ especially and ‘I love you’ or ‘I care about you’, hugging it out and smiling - the child most probably would come and hug you if s/he saw this happen. This would rather have a positive impact on him/her. 

However, make sure it is genuine and believable and not an act of drama - because the child will understand the non-verbal clues.  I have had cases as young as 7 who have told me that Mom and Dad fake love! So beware - your child is observing you

About Riddhi Doshi Patel

Riddhi Doshi Patel is a qualified Child Psychologist, Parenting Counsellor, Dance Movement Therapy Practitioner, three times TEDx Speaker, and Advisor to TED-Ed Clubs. The founder-director of Rhyns Academy, Riddhi has many accolades to her name including the National Award and Young Entrepreneur Award. As a Mental Health Awareness advocate, she also has the distinction of conducting the very first Online Roundtable Conference to discuss the recommendations of the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and submit a white paper on the churning from the same to the Ministry of Education.


The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the protagonist/protagonists. The facts & statistics, the work profile details of the protagonist/ protagonists do not reflect the views of Baely or the Journalist. Neither Baely nor the Journalist hold any responsibility or liability for the same.

About the Interviewer
About the Author
Mahima Sharma
Mahima Sharma is a Senior Journalist based in Delhi NCR. She has been in the field of TV, Print & Online Journalism since 2005 and previously an additional three years in allied media.
Read More


Other Posts

Download App

Want to save an article that you loved, download the app to get started.
Download App