How you argue in front of the kids can make all the difference. Find out the pros and cons of fighting with your mate when your kids are in the room.
If there’s one bit of parenting advice that has been passed on over generations, it’s: “Do not quarrel in front of your kids.” In an ideal world, couples would never dream of rowing in full family view. But in reality? We all do it.
The nitty gritty of everyday life can send couples over the edge. Arguing or fighting isn’t the most fun thing to do in a marriage, especially when there’s plenty of research to suggest that kids who often witness full-blown, mean-spirited, scorched-earth battle between their parents are at an increased risk of anxiety, depression and aggression later on in life. But let’s face it; anyone who claims they “never” lose it in front of their brood is not being completely honest. So what’s the middle ground? Should parents bottle up emotions till the kids go off to bed? Or is an occasional row a healthy thing for kids to witness, as long it’s done respectfully?
Not All Fighting Is Equal – Constructive and Destructive Marital Conflict
Home is a child’s safe haven of love and peace, but when parents blow-up in front of their kids, it can damage their safety net.
Researchers at the University of California analysed 47 previously done studies that linked children’s behaviour in adulthood to their toxic family environment in their formative years. They found that those who grew up in homes of high level of verbal aggression not only had to deal with emotional problems like anxiety and depression, but also had a lower immune system, sleep disturbances, substance dependency, issues with intimacy and struggled with loneliness.
There are countless such studies which establish the pattern of mental and physical damage to kids when parents quarrel to the point of sucking the oxygen in the room! But experts feel not all conflict is harmful to the child. It’s the way parents handle the situation, constructively or destructively, which makes all the difference.
So it’s okay to have conflicts in front of kids as long as you’re able to frame your argument as a debate, do it respectfully without name-calling, screaming, banging the door in anger, stick to the topic of conflict without digging up the past, and move towards a healthy resolution.
In fact, Adam Grant, the renowned professor of Psychology at the Wharton School of Business, goes a step further and advocates healthy fighting in front of kids to make smarter, more creative and well-rounded individuals. He says that too many kids are taught that fighting is bad manners, but the right kind of family arguments, which lead to a solution, help kids build character, make them ready for the real world, allow them to think independently and find creative solutions to disagreements.
I’m totally of the same opinion. One day your perfect little angels will become messy adults and they do not need a fairy tale filter for life. They should be comfortable with their emotions and when they see their parents argue, debate, then cool-off and apologise, it normalises disagreements and also drives home the message that you can be in a respectful relationship with someone who is not in sync with your viewpoint. As long as kids see parents work through their issues and are not frequently subjected to a hostile blow-up, it’s good to be exposed to the realness and the unapologetic rawness of adult life. Of course, this comes with the disclaimer: there’s a “right” way to fight – the one which does not involve screaming through the rooftops or being unnecessarily cruel at the drop of the hat.
The flipside – sometimes, it’s just too damn hard to fight in a healthy way and stay within boundaries, especially when you’re really angry. That is why many experts, including the American Academy of Paediatrics, advise against any type of fighting in the presence of kids. Some friends I know feel it’s not human and possible to be nice when all you want to do is fight. I spoke to some psychiatrists to come up with a list of tangible things couples can do to set limits.
Tips For Resolving Conflicts Amicably
Don’t cross the line to get into nasty, abusive territory.
Set a time limit to conflicts. One friend has a 10-minute rule. She knows that if the argument continues after 10 minutes then it’s usually time for one partner to explode. So, they take a breather and continue after the kids are in bed.
Have safe limits; perhaps, don’t say things to your partner you wouldn’t post on Facebook.
Argue but don’t try to control the situation. Wear your listening hat and bin the “I’m right, you’re wrong mentality”.
Warning Signs That Your Child Is Not Taking It Well
Wailing and sobbing in fear are the obvious signs that you need to watch out for, but if the kids just freeze in their tracks, look blank, tend to take sides or acts weird just to attract attention, that’s when you know to table it off.