How to Fight in Front of the Kids
“Let’s not fight in front of the kids,” most parents think. And it’s a justifiable concern. Research shows children exposed to constant conflict between their caretakers can lead to long-term behavioral, cognitive, and neurological problems. But witnessing parental discord doesn’t have to be detrimental for kids, provided they see parents resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways.
How you argue in front of kids, and what lesson your arguments teach about conflict, determines whether disagreements become a learning experience or a source of withdrawal, negative self-esteem and possible anxiety and sleep issues.
Having a healthy argument in front of your child can, in fact, be beneficial in some ways. Kids need to see healthy models of conflict resolution, because conflict will eventually arise in their lives, too. By observing parents fighting constructively, children learn about respectful debate, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
Here are some pointers for ensuring the fights you do have in front of your kids aren’t hurting them, and are, instead, setting a good example.
Keep it respectful
Stay away from name-calling, nasty personal attacks, shouting, or outright hostility. A hostile, disruptive argument can breed a sense of insecurity in children. But more importantly, kids are picking up signals about what is appropriate behavior from their parents, so if they observe you being underhanded and disrespectful to your spouse, they will come to believe that this is how they should behave when they’re upset.
Express your understanding for the other’s point of view by agreeing or acknowledging their opinion. This expresses your sensitivity to what your spouse has to say. Research has shown that children are able to modulate their frustration and anger better when they stop to consider the alternate perspective, so learning to understand the other person’s perspective might actually help build better emotional regulation skills.
If you lose your temper, or say something you regret, catch yourself and apologize.
Don’t involve the kids
Fight battles on your own. Don’t force kids to pick sides or ask them what they think.
Finish the fight in front of them
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is catching themselves mid-fight, stopping the argument, and continuing it later behind closed doors, or, perhaps worse, letting the conflict simmer unresolved. The irony, of course, is that parents usually do this to protect their kids. But in effect, this can actually create more anxiety about the fight, because kids see a big disagreement, but they don’t see the friendly resolution later. The best, healthiest experience for a child that has to witness a parents’ fight is to see it all the way through to a successful resolution. It’s important for kids to see that parents can have disagreements, resolve them, and then go back to their usual rapport.
By providing a live example of respectful disagreement and successful conflict resolution, parents can provide kids with a feeling of safety, security, and a roadmap for resolving future conflicts of their own.