Teaching our kids to argue respectfully is key to raising kids willing to stand up for what they believe in
Most of us at one point in our lives have fought in front of our kids: Be it with a spouse, family member, or friend. But most of us also tend to believe these disagreements should go on behind closed doors so we don’t upset our kids or air our dirty laundry in front of them. Turns out, it’s actually good to argue in front of kids, not only so they can see how arguments get resolved, but to offer them a model for future behavior.
“We want to raise more kids who know how to argue; to solve differences and find creative solutions,” says Adam Grant, a professor and organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of Business. Not only because only hearing parents agree leads kids to believe there’s only one right answer, but also to help foster creativity later in life.
“Too many kids are raised believing arguing is bad manners,” he begins in the Atlantic web series, Home School. “We should raise them actually believing that you can disagree regularly as long as you do it respectfully.”
Grant admitted in the series he’d always thought arguing in front of his kids was a bad idea but then read research which showed highly creative kids were more likely to be raised in families where there were frequent arguments. Of course, this doesn’t mean screaming from the rooftops about meaningless topics or picking a fight to be cruel, but having constructive disagreements about issues, and letting those feelings be known in front of kids is healthy for them. It also teaches them it’s normal to disagree and doesn’t make you unhappily married or incapable of being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t always hold your same opinion.
Obviously, there’s a “right” way to fight. He tells Hoda Kotb on the TODAY show that thinking of the argument as a debate allows people to keep an open mind and actually learn from the other person. “Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong,” he suggests. Grant said it’s the role of parents to help model these arguments as debates, which leaves room for multiple opinions without the hostility or an “I’m right, your wrong,” mentality.
In his New York Times piece titled Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting, Grant also says what’s key is for parents to teach their kids to be passionate about what they believe without getting heated when others don’t hold those same beliefs. “The skill to get hot without getting mad — to have a good argument that doesn’t become personal — is critical in life. But it’s one that few parents teach to their children. We want to give kids a stable home, so we stop siblings from quarreling and we have our own arguments behind closed doors,” he wrote.
This is true. And if you think about it, where else will kids learn how to express their opinion or argue thoughtfully as adults if it isn’t modeled to them when they are children? Grant says this also allows kids to think independently and stand up for what they believe in, which can foster creativity as well as the understanding that disagreements aren’t bad. Without them, we don’t move forward as people or as a society.
“If we rarely see a spat, we learn to shy away from the threat of conflict. Witnessing arguments — and participating in them — helps us grow a thicker skin,” he writes. “We develop the will to fight uphill battles and the skill to win those battles, and the resilience to lose a battle today without losing our resolve tomorrow.”
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