Couples argue. That’s a fact of life. But when fighting takes place in front of the kids, things can get complicated. That’s when arguments between spouses and partners take on new meaning as they may drastically impact their audience. While it may be true that some disagreements are unavoidable, it’s important to keep things civil—especially when your kids are watching. Let’s take a closer look at what’s at stake.
The Kids Are Watching
Children are incredibly perceptive. Believe it or not, they see, hear and feel more than you think they do. In fact, some studies show that babies as young as six months can sense tension in a home. We also know that when children are exposed to hostile environments and unfair fights, the effects are damaging and can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, from anxiety and disrupted sleep to physical problems like stomachaches or headaches, academic issues, depression, and behavioral problems. For some children, the effects can be lasting and may even negatively impact their ability to form healthy relationships as adults.
With this in mind, it’s important for parents to avoid – at all costs – destructive fighting tactics such as name calling, verbal or physical abuse, threats, silent treatment, storming off, and even capitulation, a situation where one parent gives in as a way to create the appearance of a resolution.
Parents should also censor the content of their fights. For obvious reasons, you should refrain from fighting in front of your children about age-inappropriate topics like sex, or about issues that could confuse or upset your child, such as relationships with grandparents or in-laws. Keep in mind that little ones have a tendency to repeat things they hear.
The Right Way to Fight
While the goal is to ultimately shield children from the majority of your fights, it’s possible for couples to argue and disagree in a healthy manner. Demonstrating how to best navigate conflict in front of your kids can be beneficial to their development, so keep the following points in mind:
- Show respect. Model love and support for each another—despite the fact that you’re frustrated or hurt.
- Be willing to compromise. Children need to learn this necessary skill, and what better way than to see it modeled in the home?
- Reach a resolution. When calm, loving and respectful resolution is achieved, kids feel safe and reassured. If necessary, remind your kids that the disagreement has nothing to do with them and that it’s not their fault. Kids need to know that their parents love each other and that sometimes it’s okay to disagree with someone you love. By exposing your children to healthy conflict resolution, and by shielding them from unhealthy and destructive fights, you equip them with important tools for life.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.