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Fighting in Front of the Children

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 20 Jul 2012 | comments*Discuss
Argue Fight Mummy Daddy Parents Kids

You've had a busy day at the office, you come home late and find that your partner hasn't even started making dinner. Toys are scattered everywhere, nobody has been in the bath, and the baby is screaming. You're hungry, exhausted and fed up. What do you do? Pick a fight with Daddy.

Should Mummy and Daddy ever argue in front of the kids? The answer is a tough one. Some people say yes, others say no. Most experts believe that while arguing in front of children can be detrimental, it can actually be beneficial for children to see that their parents may not always agree.

A three-year study of 300 families carried out at Cardiff University found that it was how parents fight that had the biggest effect on their children's emotional stability. How often parents fight wasn't that important; it was the nature of their fights and whether or not they made up in front of the kids afterwards that affected the children the most.

The study found that fights involving shouting, slamming doors or verbal and/or physical aggression had the most negative effect on kids, and that children as young as three years old could pick up on a bad family atmosphere very easily.

The study also said, however, that when fights are handled the right way, kids can learn a lot from them. In particular, they can learn that certain traits, such as compassion, humour and warmth, are needed to solve problems and disagreements.

Arguing in Front of Toddlers

Toddlers are too young to understand that while parents sometimes argue, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t still love each other. If your toddler catches you arguing, you may need to explain that everyone has disagreements from time to time, and that often arguing can strengthen a relationship.

That said, fighting in front of a very young child may rock their own fragile sense of security, and make them unsure about their own relationships. What may seem like an everyday argument to you might appear to be an all-out war to a young child. So be careful how you act and try not to expose them to too much too soon.

Arguing About Sensitive Topics

People often worry about what is and isn't appropriate to discuss in front of a child. The best advice is to apply common sense. Even a mildly heated discussion about sex or money, for example, is not suitable for young ears.

Money is a difficult topic for children to understand. Kids don't know what financial discussions are all about, and may start feeling insecure and worried themselves if you discuss your own concerns in front of them.

Parents should never argue about sex in front of their children. Sex is a private matter, and one that children should not be privy to. What goes on behind closed doors should stay there. That doesn’t mean that sex should be a taboo discussion, but no child should be forced to hear about sexual relations between his or her parents.

Arguing Effectively

Parents who learn to argue effectively and reasonably can teach their children that it’s okay to disagree, and that Mummy and Daddy can have a difference of opinion sometimes but still get on.

These top tips will help you to argue constructively, and hopefully instil a feeling of security in your children:

  • Don’t use swear words directed at each other.
  • Never resort to name calling.
  • Keep your voices down to a reasonable tone.
  • Try to listen to the other person’s point of view, and try to respect it even if you do not agree with it.
  • Count to ten and take a deep breath if you feel you're about to explode, to avoid actually doing so.
  • Apologise when the argument is over, and show physical affection towards each other in front of your children.
Keep in mind that there is never any place for physical violence, no matter what the circumstances. Children should never be subjected to violence, nor should they have to witness violence themselves. If you are the victim of violent abuse from your partner, talk to your GP about ways to get help – or talk to the police.

Conflict Resolution

Many people say that marriages survive the longest when there is some type of conflict, provided that the conflict resolution is a positive one. And some conflict can actually be good for a child, according to experts.

If your child never sees you or your partner bickering or disagreeing, they may not be equipped to handle conflict when they become adults. Children need to learn how to handle differences of opinion in a constructive fashion, a skill that will be of vital importance to them in later life. And if they learn that people can agree to disagree, so much the better.

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