No family is perfect, so fights are bound to happen between parents at one point or another. Between work, bills, and general exhaustion, there is always something that might boil over and blow up in your face. When kids are added to the mix, the stakes only get higher. This can leave parents scrambling with questions. What are the costs of fighting in front of my children? Will it hurt them in the long run if it’s a regular occurrence? How can I prevent fighting from happening?
No parent wants to argue in front of their children. Realistically though, sometimes it happens. A little known secret, though, is that not all fights that occur in front of kids are detrimental. In fact, some valuable life lessons can come from watching constructive arguments that result in a resolution. It is crucial for children to understand conflict resolution between two people because it happens in every relationship. If children never see parents fighting, it can result in an unrealistic ideal in their head about adult relationships and might experience anxiety about healthy arguments in the future.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, though, too much destructive arguing in the home can cause children to develop problematic patterns in adulthood. Kids learn from adult relationships and mimic their parent’s behavior, and therefore will often emulate the conflict styles later in life. They also might be more attracted to unhealthy relationships as adults, where their partner shares similar argument styles because it’s something they are accustomed too. Lastly, they likely will struggle with anxiety and avoidance of intimate relationships as adults. A child that sees their parents excessively arguing will probably be afraid of relationships as adults.
There is a balance between figuring out which disagreements you can discuss in front of your children and what arguments need to be talked about separately. What is most important, though, is maintaining a positive climate where more happy or joyful interactions are seen between both parents and a lower percentage of negative ones. Here are some tips you can use to figure out how to navigate this process.
Make sure the kids see you resolve a fight.
If your children witness a terrible part of a fight, they should also be exposed to the resolution at the end. It is essential for children to see parents restoring good feelings towards each other. If they are young, sometimes sharing those feelings with the children and explaining how you came to a compromise can help them understand. They will learn through this that even though sometimes parents lose their cool, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. They can learn that broken parts of a relationship can heal and repair.
Schedule fights away from children.
Certain fights, like ones that are brought up over and over again, shouldn’t be something your child witnesses. When things like this start coming up, it might be necessary to take a step back and say to your spouse: “This isn’t a good time with the kids around. Let’s talk about it tonight when they go to sleep”. This allows you to put a pin in the fight without ignoring either spouse’s feelings, while also safeguarding the children.
Pay attention to your child’s feelings.
All children are different, but some are quick to blame themselves for fights between parents. It might look clear as day to you that your child is only an innocent bystander, but children are developmentally egocentric. You must assure your child that no matter what tension happens between mom and dad, it is not their fault and that you both still love them unconditionally. When fights happen, ask your child how they felt watching the argument and give them space to express their emotions. This will help them to feel safe, connected, and heard.
If you are going to have a tense discussion in front of the kids, you need to make sure that you fight fairly so that they learn the correct way to resolve issues. Be specific about why you are upset so that there is no confusion. Do not bring up past problems or arguments and instead stay on one focused topic. Listen openly to what your partner has to say, even if it’s not something you want to hear or agree with. While you may not see eye-to-eye with your partner, it’s essential to let them know you’re taking in what they say. Don’t undermine your partner, use accusatory statements, or call out their point of view because it is different than yours. Lastly, never drag your children into the fight. It would be best if you never talked about your kids in an argument when they are around.
Children should not be raised in a home where they only see the “perfect” side of their parent’s relationship, but certainly shouldn’t be subjected to angry, excessive fighting each day either. It is essential to teach your children about conflict resolution through healthy and positive conversations. Fighting in front of your children won’t hurt them, but be wary of how often you do it.