When It Gets Hot, Is Arguing In Front Of The Kids Okay?
Should you argue in front of the kids? Just the mere question may raise your anxiety level. You and your partner will inevitably disagree, so let yourself off of the hook for that. It is probably inevitable that you will find yourself in an argument that your children will witness, however brief it might be. Let’s face it – disagreement is part of living in a healthy relationship. Learning how to disagree by watching you, their parents, is a valuable life skill for your children to learn. So, “yes,” you should argue in front of the kids, but only if you do it healthily and constructively.
Note: I don’t want to get bogged down in the various interpretations of the words “fight,” “disagree,” “argue,,” etc. as in, “We never fight. We just disagree.” Whatever we call it, we all deal with it unless one of us is a pushover! The point of this blog is to help deal with our differences in a healthy manner in front of our children.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Conflict styles are learned. Kids watch adults in relationships and will often relate in the same ways that they have observed their parents relating. Therefore, your conflict style will become theirs. If it is unhealthy, they will have the burden of “unlearning” it before they can then learn a healthy conflict style, if they are ever able to.
- Kids are attracted to their “normal.” Kids tend to recreate the dynamics of the environment that they grew up in. It feels “normal,” even if it is painful. If they are exposed to excessive fighting or abusive relationships, that will feel normal to them. They may, then, be attracted to others who are similarly damaged and replicate that same dysfunction when they are adults.
- Intimate relationships are avoided. The fear and anxiety that observing excessive fighting or abuse can create in a child may lead them to avoid close relationships altogether. Much of the fear of intimacy in adults is rooted in their painful childhood experiences.
- Anger and disagreements continue to produce anxiety. If kids aren’t exposed to dealing healthily with anger and disputes – a natural part of relationships- anger and disagreements may cause them to become anxious or panicked. Normal interactions surrounding conflict can be overwhelming or impossible to them in their skewed experience.
HOW TO ARGUE IN FRONT OF THE KIDS
- Schedule your disagreement discussion. This is especially true if the subject of the disagreement is of a more mature or intimate nature. Of course, conflicts may erupt spontaneously. However, you don’t have to jump into discussing it or arguing about it on the spot. Instead, remember that you are being observed (even if the kids aren’t in the room – they have great radar) and agree upon a time and place to continue the discussion. This is similar to a “timeout” in that you both agree to come back together to discuss the issue when it is “safe” to do so. In this case, it is your children- as well as your relationship- that you are honoring and protecting. And you child will learn that self-control and consideration of others, even when you are angry, is possible.
- Stay respectful. Respect your partner as a human being and your life partner. Respect for everyone in the home, especially your partner, will teach your child(ren) to value and consider another’s feelings and opinions.
- Maintain calm voice levels. Check yourself on this and self-regulate. One of the most essential skills to learn in conflict management is controlling tone and presentation. Be aware of how you are coming across, not only to your partner but also to your children.
- Own your feelings – always. As much as possible, use “I” statements. For example, “I feel overwhelmed when I see the trash overflowing in the kitchen. Will you help by taking it out each evening?” is much better than “You never help around here. Look at that filthy trash in the kitchen. Why don’t you get off of your butt and help?”
- Be clear about what you want and need. So many arguments are based on one or both of you not feeling that your needs are being met. It’s much better and more productive if you first be clear about your wants and needs and then express them calmly and rationally to your partner.
- Pre-empt arguments by practicing good communication Disagreements and misunderstandings may also be avoided if we just practice good communication skills and habits.
- Make sure you are spending quality time together as a couple so that your relationship is not in deficit and, thus, more likely to become conflictive.
- Be specific, not vague or general, in your communication.
- LISTEN! Listen to your partner and validate them, even when you don’t necessarily agree with them. You will be amazed at how many conflicts or misunderstandings are avoided. This holds true of your interactions with your kids as well. Listening and validating send the message, “I value you, your thoughts, and your feelings.”
- Create a warm and supportive home environment.
- Foster discussions and value differing opinions.
- Be open and generous in expressing love.
- Express appreciation.
- Try to have at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings. If they have heard you arguing or having a heated discussion, make sure that you acknowledge how that must have made them feel. Empathetic statements like, “I know that hearing Mommy and Daddy arguing must have upset and scared you. We want you to know that we are sorry that we made you feel that way. “
- Make sure that they know the argument wasn’t their fault. By virtue of their maturity level, children tend to believe that everything is a result of what they say and do. That includes your disagreements. It needs to be clearly expressed that they are not at fault. Even if they don’t express that they feel this way, chances are, they do. Let them know, whether they say it or not, that they are not to blame in any way for the argument between you and their other parent.
- Make up in front of your child. If your child has witnessed the argument, it is crucial that they also witness the reconciliation if it is age-appropriate. If the reconciliation is not age-appropriate, simply and explain to them together that everything has been worked out. They will learn the skills of negotiation, compromise, and sacrifice for the good of others as well as for their own good. They will know that disagreements aren’t the end of the world and that things that feel broken can be restored.
If you find that your relationship is becoming more and more combative, affecting not only you and your partner but your children as well, it may be time to seek professional help. A marriage conference or workshop may be of benefit. Love Recon, an interactive relationship seminar, can certainly help you get to the root of your conflict and teach you the skills you need to create and maintain peace between you. Recon Coaching services can be of help as well through individualized support and skill development.