Most experts tell us that fighting in front of children is a big no-no. But have they ever been in a tear-your-hair-out Hulk-level raging situation when your spouse is SO blatantly wrong? I bet not. Never mind the kids are nearby, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and hash it out.
Just a moment. Do you really want to do that? What if, there was a better way to do this? Bridgingpsych tells you just what happens to your children when you fight, and how to “fight better”.
- What Happens To Children When Parents Fight
- What Can You Do To Prevent Harm
- What Do Parents Fight About
- Should Parents Work Out Conflicts In Front Of Children
- Things To Keep In Mind While Fighting In Front Of Children
- How To Argue Better
- Is It Okay To Fight In Front Of Teens
What Happens To Children When Parents Fight
In business, conflict is described in two ways–constructive or destructive. Now in BridgingPsych, we believe that in marriage and parenting, you have a partnership that is almost like a business! The day-to-day management of responsibilities, goals, chores and employees (ahem, I meant children) is pretty like running your two-person business, don’t you think?
Constructive conflict is one that embraces opinions or ideas that are different to achieve various goals. On the other hand, destructive conflict tears down morale and loses out on productivity and efficiency. There are no more obvious signs than upset kids, an absence of caring words, and disinterest in family activities. If no positive changes come from fighting, know for sure that you are most likely engaging in destructive conflict.
Now that you are sure of which type of conflicts occur, let’s take a look at the consequences of fighting in front of children, on children.
We know that the best role models for children are their parents. You make a major impact on their day-to-day lives, and this includes problem-solving. Your children may think that fighting aggressively is the way to solve problems if they see it happening frequently.
The result? Your children may reenact what happens at home by being aggressive with their siblings or friends in school. In the long run, they face poor relationships in their lives.
Have you experienced that tension in the air that is thicker than scones baked with too much flour? It feels unhappy and even adults would wish to get out of that situation. For children who are sensitive to your every mood and behavior, they feel it even more.
Your children may show their distress by being fussy, clingy, or prone to tantrums. If not properly addressed, they may not learn how to express their feelings in a healthy manner.
Research tells us that poor relationships run in cycles. This means that should you and your spouse have conflictual relationships, your children are likely to have them too. Before you dismiss this as wishy-washy generational curses, bear in mind that children learn best from you. If you don’t teach them how to maintain good relationships, chances are that they never learn it at all.
Physical Health Issues
Children get anxious and disturbed when they see you fight. Research has found that the average cortisol levels in children from homes with frequent parental fights are higher. As a result, they find it hard to sleep, choose to overeat, or experience aches in various parts of their bodies. The indirect consequence of seeing parents fight may lead to long-term undesirable effects.
It is hard to gain security when conflicts are happening at home. Children as young as one year old are found to be learning how to trust and be secure. If they see you fighting, they will feel unsafe which leads to low self-esteem.
Teachers are taught to ask parents about the home situation if they notice a bright child losing interest in classes or turning in poorly-done schoolwork. This happens because your child may be unable to concentrate on anything else when he or she feels upset about your fights. Some children may also freeze from fear and be unable to engage in any studies.
Affected Parent-Child Relationship
Most children feel that they are to blame when parents fight. Or else, they may feel obliged to take sides when they see you fighting. At this age, they still don’t know how to express or regulate their feelings. They may end up distant or aloof from you because they are unsure about the relationship.
What Do Parents Fight About
The top reason for fighting in front of children happens is usually family-related. The age-old adage of “marrying into the family” is not still existing for no reason! You may be irritated by in-laws, upset about holiday arrangements (“we’re going to your family AGAIN?”), have conflicting parenting ideas, and even disagree on how best to raise the family dog. It is said that the average parent fights eight times per month just on how to raise children.
Starting a family (just like starting a business) comes with financial commitments. The monthly bills now come with additional costs from babysitting charges, music classes, pediatric care, school fees, and much more! If you and your partner do not agree on how to spend money it will most likely lead to many arguments.
You may think that it is best for children to see their parents come home early. On the other hand, your partner feels that work obligations must be fulfilled every day. You may like your home to be tidy, whereas your partner thinks that “a little mess” wouldn’t hurt. Home is another area where you and your other half are likely to spend a lot of time in disagreement.
Should Parents Work Out Conflicts In Front Of Children
After reading about the long-term effects on children from watching parents fight, do you think that it is a good idea? However, choosing to give in or avoid conflicts is not the answer too. Ignoring your spouse may lead to equally damaging consequences.
By all means, feel free to be fully expressive in front of your children. However, I’d say that these conflicts should be those that are minimally impactful and non-related to the children. It will be a great opportunity for you to show your children that arguments can be addressed and solved in a calm manner!
How To Avoid Lasting Harm To Your Children
Psst, One Argument Is Not The End Of The World
Let’s say that all reason went out the window during that last argument. You gasp and shake in terror reading this article thinking that your children are going to need professional help because they happened to be in the next room during your last fight. Good news: Your children are more resilient than you think. If the overall home environment is loving and caring, one nasty fight that they overheard will not ruin them.
Let Fights Be Learning Opportunities
Children do not grow up learning how to express their differing ideas in a positive manner. They need to learn. And the best place for them to learn is from you and your partner!
Use conflicts to allow children to see that they can be solved. You can sit with them afterward to show them how it was resolved. “Mummy was really really upset but I took a KitKat (slogan of “take a break…”) instead! Then, it helped me talk to daddy better.” Of course, make sure that the fight the kids saw was not one that was aggressive or hostile.
Limit Topics Of Disagreement
Never fight about the children, in front of the children. It easily leads to feelings of insecurity, anxiousness, and guilt. Make a pact with your partner that these topics will only be discussed privately, in the bedroom or when the children are in school.
Show Them Loving Gestures
Children need to know that their home and their parents are safe again. It is not enough to tell your children, “we’re done fighting! It is all okay.”. They have to see you physically being affectionate through hugs and big kisses to feel that it is alright again.
Consider Marital Therapy
If it feels as if the fighting is getting out of control and no positive outcomes come from each disagreement, you and your partner may consider getting some professional help. Most healthy couples see someone several times over the course of the marriage to improve their relational health. Some get therapy routinely without the need for major disagreements to happen. Think of it as “maintenance”.
You can look for available therapists in your area here (US-based) or here (Malaysia).
How To Argue Better
The first thing to do in order to work out conflicts is to pay attention to your breathing. Firstly, it helps you stay grounded and not in the heat of the moment. Secondly, it is a sure-fire way to help you keep your cool. We all know that when you cannot stay calm, there is pretty much no point arguing. Lastly, when you’re focused on breathing it prevents you from saying things that you’ll regret later!
The pause. That’s all you’re waiting for in the midst of a fight so that you can air your most obvious point – the other person MAKES NO SENSE. When your partner rants and pauses to take a breath, that’s your opening to tell them why they are wrong (perhaps in a louder volume so you know, they hear). Perhaps that is why people do not even stop breathing while fighting.
Instead, just listen. Remove the sneer and eye-roll from the equation, and let your partner know that you’re trying to understand by asking questions afterward. Keep your best attacking cards to yourself and see the magic happen! When a person feels understood their walls come down and it is easier to communicate.
Keep On Track
Sure, you might start talking about how “that last time you did that too!” and it derails the whole conversation. It goes without saying that your partner will end up feeling defensive and before long, the fight is about what happened at least 5 years back. Always keep on track by focusing on what you wish to resolve from the conversation. If something else comes up that appears like a bigger problem, acknowledge it and agree to move on to the next topic together.
Use Kind Words
Even in ugly fights, never use words that you’ll never wish upon yourself. It takes hard work (marriage IS hard work!) but always be kind, even in arguments. Broken hearts take much longer to heal than one solvable problem.
The Right Time
Of course, you wouldn’t want to raise a difficult topic when your partner is exhausted from work, cleaning the car, and attending multiple meetings. Instead, choose a moment when you and your partner are calm, relaxed, and open to talking. You can even ask them to set a time in advance to talk things out.
Consider The Children
Are they within hearing distance? Do they need immediate or near-to-immediate help from you? If you said yes to any of the two questions, put off your fight to another time (read “The Right Time”) or to your bedroom behind closed doors.
What Happens When You Fight In Front Of Children?
Studies show that children as young as 6-weeks-old are able to understand the emotions of their parents. If these fights happen frequently, you may be affecting their feelings, behaviors, and even academic progress. For example, they are more likely to be aggressive, be distressed, and even perform poorly in school!
Does Arguing In Front Of Children Affect Them?
Yes. Children rely heavily on parents to be role models. They inevitably pick up on poor or aggressive problem-solving skills when you expose them to multiple arguments. In the long run, it affects their ability to maintain good relationships.
How To Stop Fighting In Front Of Your Child?
Choose the correct time and place to argue. If you get into the heat of the moment and realized that your child is nearby, have an agreement with your partner to continue the conversation next time or behind bedroom doors. If all else fails, consider marital therapy.
Does It Hurt Your Child To See You And Your Partner Fight?
Research is telling us that a child can be affected physically, emotionally, and mentally when they often see parents fighting. The hurt they experience is one that is tremendous and also difficult to express. Prevent this from lasting damage by ensuring that your child sees you and your partner making up.
Is It Ever Good For Parents To Disagree In Front Of Their Kids?
If you handle it well, it can do children much good to see their parents disagreeing in a calm and loving manner! Children will learn how to voice their differing opinions respectfully, debate lovingly, and concede gracefully. On top of that, they learn problem-solving skills in the most practical way too!
Is It Okay To Fight In Front Of Teens?
Although they may be slightly older than small children, teenagers react to their parents’ fights differently. They can become more withdrawn, refuse to spend time at home, and even try to intervene in their parents’ fights. This is mainly because they are learning to assert their independence.
Communication is key in this stage of their growth. Let your teen know that fights happen because of differences in opinion and that both of you are trying to fix things. Although they may not show it, this will give them security and comfort at home.
Find more information on how to modify behaviors in a 3-part series below:
At the end of the day, fighting in front of children can do some good if handled in the right way. Although exposure to multiple fights can affect children, lasting harm can be prevented if the correct steps are taken. Choose to argue better (and smarter) instead!
Parenting may be a long and windy path, but having a growth-oriented mindset is important for the overall wellbeing of the family. To better families with BridgingPsych!
If you are looking for other resources that will help you on your parenting journey, you can refer to: