It’s a sound that can be worse than nails on a chalkboard. Worse than the most annoying and aggravating noises you could ever think of. At times it probably makes you want to wear headphones, slam doors, or just hop in the car and run away. What is it? It’s the sound of your kids arguing.
Personally, I can’t take it when I hear my kids having all-out screaming matches, and never-ending arguments over the most ridiculous (and sometimes important) things. It makes my skin crawl, sends my blood pressure through the roof, and leaves me with that whole unattractive “I’m a mom on the edge!” twitchy eye thing. I just want all the fighting, all the bickering, and all the constant at each other’s throats kind of beat downs to stop!
Why can’t we all just get along and live in peaceful harmony? Wouldn’t that be better for everyone?
You would think that families living in a Zen-type bubble of bliss — one that avoids confrontation, encourages peaceful unity, and has everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya — would better for kids, but it’s not.
Even if we were able to live argument-free (and if you are, then please tell us your ways, you magical unicorn), new research tells us it’s actually better for your children to disagree now and then.
Children who are raised in a harmonious, nobody-ever-disagrees, “groupthink” mindset tend to develop into young adults who cannot handle dissent. Conversely, kids who grow up in an environment with a bit of “tension” grow up to me more creative and appreciate the value of open disagreements. Kids who grow up arguing learn to realize the benefit of debate and disagreement, and aren’t generally offended by others who think differently than they do.
According to Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the trick is to teach children to argue without making things personal. That kind of skill is vital in life, and one which Grant says parents are not teaching 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 says. “Yet if kids never get exposed to disagreement, we’ll end up limiting their creativity.”
By not intervening in our kids’ fights and disagreements, we can begin to allow them to flex their debate muscle during a time — childhood — when it’s the most ideal to exercise. Grant believes that disagreement is the antidote to group-think, and when your kids are going after each other with insults, counter-arguments, and tension-filled sibling rivalry, they are actually at their most creative. And it’s when people are at their most creative, that difficult problems get solved.
Grant goes on to add that parents who openly disagree and argue in front of their kids are actually doing them a great service. The alternative — fighting behind closed doors and hiding their emotions — leads children to believe that marriage is always easy.
“Most parents hide their conflicts: They want to present a united front, and they don’t want kids to worry,” he states. “But when parents disagree with each other, kids learn to think for themselves. They discover that no authority has a monopoly on truth. They become more tolerant of ambiguity. Rather than conforming to others’ opinions, they come to rely on their own independent judgment.”
Grant offers a few tips for parents for dealing with their own arguments in front of kids, including “framing the argument as a debate instead of a fight or conflict, argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong, and make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.”
Parents need to resist the urge to intervene in their kid’s fights, and to stop teaching our kids that the polite thing to do is to hold our tongues so we don’t offend, challenge, or hurt someone’s feelings. Rather, doing the opposite and engaging in civil discourse means you care enough about someone else’s opinion that you want to challenge it. There is no better time than childhood to nurture that skill –even if the fights are about shared messy bedrooms and borrowed electronics — because your kids will be well-equipped to hold their own when the disagreements are about more important things.