Why It's Healthy To Argue In Front Of The Kids

by Susie b Cross
Originally Published: 
it's ok to fight in front of your kids
Getty / Scary Mommy

My husband and I disagree about a lot of things. One subject we argue about is, ironically, arguing. He says that under no circumstances should there be discord in front of our kids; I say butting heads once in a while is perfectly fine.

Penny Mansfield, a relationships expert and director of the U.K.’s leading relationship research and innovation charity, One Plus One, would agree with me. “Arguing is a form of communication,” she tells Parents. “Disagreement and the need for resolution is natural and part of family life.”

Too often, though, parents start an argument in front of the kids, but they don’t end it there, assuming it’s better to carry on out of earshot. According to Mansfield (and me), that is a problem. Children will mimic what they see in adult interactions, and if they only see two tense and unyielding combatants, that’s what they’ll internalize. And so, modeling a little give-and-take and finding common ground in front of your children is essential. Resolution is key, and an end-of-argument hug is a good way to physically show your children that there is calm after the storm.

That doesn’t mean that all arguing is healthy. Here are some guidelines that’ll help you keep everything “above the belt”:

Don’t Pick Fights

This is sometimes a hard one, so it’s good to look for patterns. For example, if you are typically annoyed and ready to rumble at the end of the day, it may be because you are exhausted from many hours of go-go-go. You may find that you’re routinely baiting your partner at this time, so it’s good to take some proactive measures, like unwinding after work with a little alone time. And if they bait you? Same recipe: Take yourself on a small vacation and walk around the block or relax in the bath.

Keep It Civil

No finger-pointing, name-calling, yelling. In essence, if your behavior resembles that of two kids fighting over a scrunchie on the playground, you need to reassess your tactics. Though you two may be able to reconcile after the nastiness it can have lasting effects on your child. One study found that kindergarteners who repeatedly witnessed parents’ ugly battles were likely to experience depression, behavioral issues, and “emotional insecurity” by seventh grade. And these effects don’t magically disappear in time.

Keep The Kids Out Of The Argument

This is a huge one. No one likes to be thrown in the middle of an argument, but asking your children to referee is definitely a no-no. First of all, if they choose sides, this may exacerbate conflict, turn the argument in their direction, and make them feel like it is their fault.

Linda Nielson, Ed.D., educational and adolescent psychologist at Wake Forest University and author of “Between Fathers and Daughters,” also warns that children may get “bitterly divided over which parent to choose which can emotionally drain them.”

My parents always argued behind closed doors, which sounds idyllic to some. But, because their disagreements were hidden, I grew up with the skewed notion that people who loved each other never clashed. As a young adult, I had no understanding that partners could both disagree and have a strong relationship–and, so, with any bump in the road, I bailed. Now, as a parent who adores her partner, I want my kids to see that arguments don’t have to signal that something is broken. And that, my friends, is why I am right and my husband is wrong. I win again.

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