Is it ever ok to fight in front of the kids?
The way parents are found arguing in front of the kids can help or harm them say parenting experts.
It’s a fact acknowledged by most that to fight or argue in front of the kids is a big no-no. After all, it's setting a bad example, right? Yet parents do it all the time!
In the heat of the moment, it is natural for most to lose control and let emotions take over. It is indeed challenging to stick to our good intentions when egos are at stake or tempers are flaring.
But parenting experts, Warren Cann and Jodie Benveniste suggest that it's not fighting in front of kids but the way parents fight in front of their kids and that affects them negatively.
Hostile home climate
Warren Cann, CEO of Parenting Research Centre, says that the impact of parental conflict on kids depends on the severity and frequency of the conflict, and the way it is resolved.
"[The] parents’ relationship creates the emotional climate for a home," explains Cann. "When that climate gets stressed and hostile, it affects a child’s development. Not just loud fighting; even prolonged, unspoken anger can cause distress. These lead to emotional and behavioural disorders in children with long-lasting effects."
Becoming parents leads to conflicts
When couples have a baby, their personal relationship together tends to go on the backburner. Research also shows that parents' stress levels rise significantly immediately after a baby is born. With so much stress in the equation, conflicts are inevitable between a couple who then may end up in a fight in front of the kids.
It’s how parents choose to manage conflict that can either be helpful or harmful to kids. So make your relationship with your spouse a priority - it is as important for your children as it is for you.
Read on the next page how arguing in front of the kids affects them.
How are children affected by parental conflict?
New research by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that the effects of parents fighting in front of the kids are not the same for all children. Here is how children understand the problem as well as the nature of the conflict.
Shouting and calling each other names instead of working things out can harm kids. A fight in front of the kids in which the disagreement is about them is the most damaging. It is emotionally draining for kids, who feel threatened by the aggression or blame themselves as the cause for the conflict. Keep the impact on the children in mind when you fight in front of the kids. Try not to make it personal.
Temperament and age
Younger kids often think that they have done something wrong when parents shout, argue and fight in front of them. Older children will worry that their parents are going to break up. Some children are very sensitive and will hide their anxiety within while others who are extroverted may end up expressing their rage through unhealthy behaviour.
Boys are more likely to act up or become more aggressive, whereas girls tend to suppress conflict and become withdrawn when parents fight in front of their kids. Either way, the behaviour needs support and acknowledgement. Be aware that when you fight in front of the kids, you will need to make amends to them after the event.
Psychologist and Director of Parent Wellbeing, Jodie Benveniste, says, “There are ways to discuss issues which strengthen relationships. Children actually benefit if parents listen to each other, and are willing to give and take. It shows kids how to negotiate and find solutions to problems.”
If you did not manage to avoid a fight in front of the kids, don’t panic and feel guilty. We're all imperfect beings who err - that's a great lesson for Junior too! Take the opportunity to apologise in front of your partner or even to the child and to reassure him that Mummy and Daddy will always love and be there for him.
After talking to junior, make a promise to yourself that you will never fight in front of your kids again. The next time you think you are having a hard time dealing with your urge to fight - walk away! Recognize that when you don't walk away, you are in fact harming your kids. By not walking away you are putting your need to let off steam ahead of their well-being.
If your spousal differences are way more serious than a simple disagreement, do seek professional help and counselling. What children look for most from parents is reassurance. Be clear with your child that they are not the cause of your disagreements and assure them that they're always loved.