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Arguing in Front of Your Kids – Is It Harmful?

Problem: My husband and I often argue in front of our kids. When an issue comes up we bicker with each other without giving thought to whether our kids are listening or not. I’m not sure if we’re harming them or if we’re helping them by exposing them to the fact that sometimes couples disagree with each other. The problem is, our kids really don’t like when we argue in front of them and they always tell us, “Stop yelling at each other.” What’s your advice?

Insight: You’re getting a strong message from your kids that needs to be examined. While at times, all children are going to be exposed to parental arguments, it’s important to consider how children take this in. Most (if not all) children don’t like to hear their parents’ arguments. Arguing in front of kids, frightens them; “Are you getting a divorce?” It causes them to take sides; “Stop telling Dad what to do all the time.” And,they may blame themselves for your quarrels; “If only I would listen more, they wouldn’t fight as much.”

Strategies: While you cannot expect arguments and disagreements not to happen, consider these points next time you feel the urge to expose your kids to you and your husband’s differences and conflicts.

Do remember that being a kid is not as easy as it may seem. There are pressures (“Will I pass this test?”), struggles (“Do I fit in?”), frustrations (“I wish I had an easier time in math.”), and worries (“Will I make the team?”). Exposing your kids to your arguments puts additional stress on them.

Don’t expect your children to fully concentrate on their schoolwork and other activities when they’re worried about whether you and your husband will stay together.

Do be aware of signs of stress your kids may be experiencing as a result of this exposure; i.e., eating and sleep changes, anxiety, stomach aches, behavior problems.

Don’t feel that you can’t disagree in front of your children. Disagreements and conflicts are a natural part of any close relationship. Just be mindful of your tone and choice of words.

Do know that it is okay for your kids to hear you express and then resolve your struggles – occasionally.

Don’t think that by exposing your kids to your arguments, they’ll learn conflict resolution skills. It doesn’t work that way. Their fears of you separating or getting a divorce hinder positive conflict management learning skills.

Do offer (honest) reassurance if your kids hear you fight: “Even though Dad and I argue, we still love each other very much.” “I know it’s hard for you to hear Dad and me fight. We’re trying not to disagree so much.”

Don’t overlook the fact that you and your husband are role models for your children. Every day, you show your kids how adults and couples behave. When you and your husband get along in harmoniously ways, your entire family will benefit.

Do know that if you and your husband don’t treat each other with respect-and instead yell, offend each other, and argue constantly, your children may eventually have trouble with their own intimate relationships.

Don’t forget your children will never benefit by being within earshot of your arguments. They also don’t get used to hearing it.

Do put effort into helping your children learn how to resolve differences and manage their anger. Offer productive conflict resolution techniques (talk it out, use humor, compromise, role play, listen well) when they’re in conflict with each other, their friends, and with you and your husband.

Don’t make comments that trigger you and your husband’s anger and argumentative behavior. Talk with each other about making the effort to avoid squabbles. Control your accusations and unkind words. Don’t insult each other. Get professional counseling if arguments continue.

Bottom Line: Just wondering. Are your kids imitating you and your husband’s argumentative behavior now? Do they treat each other and their friends with frequent blaming and discord? Do you demand, “Don’t treat your brother that way. That’s not nice!” “Don’t talk to your sister like that.” While I would suggest that you continue to guide your children to treat each other with respect and kindness, I would also suggest that you do the same with your spouse. Your kids deserve this.

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