Fighting in Front of the Kids (And What Not to Do)

Posted by on Nov 30, 2020 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on Fighting in Front of the Kids (And What Not to Do)

Conflict is part of any relationship. If you have kids, then eventually some of that relationship conflict will occur in front of them. Even despite your best efforts, it can be hard to hide the fact that you and your partner are arguing. Here then, are some common questions about what to do (and what not to do) when fighting in front of the kids.

Does It Hurt Your Children to See You and Your Partner Fight?

Conventional wisdom taught that seeing their parents fight is not the worst thing to happen to kids… as long as the kids also see their parents make-up afterward. However, that school of thinking is beginning to change.

Some neurobiological research shows that when children see their parents fight, they experience stress. The researchers found elevated stress markers even in children who were asleep while the parents were fighting. These increased levels of stress hormones can remain in the body for hours, long after the argument has occurred.

When children are under stress, they are much more likely to experience anxiety, sleep problems, and behavioral issues. Stressing the kids isn’t the only problem that results from fighting in front of them. Children also learn that fighting and arguing is how adults try to resolve differences with one another. In addition, when the adults are fighting, they are also not available to comfort or otherwise meet the needs of the children.

Is It Ever Okay for Parents to Disagree in Front of the Kids?

Yes, absolutely! It is completely O.K. for kids to see their parents disagree in front of them. The catch? The disagreements must happen in a respectful manner, without criticism or disrespect. Even if your temper flairs up a little, it is okay if your child sees you repair the damage with your partner. They benefit from seeing you use conflict management skills appropriately.

What If You Fight with Your Partner in Front of the Kids and Make Poor Choices?

This is a good question. If you do fight in front of the kids and act in ways that are regrettable, don’t panic. Let your kids see you repair the damage with your partner.

Making poor choices in front of the kids will only become an issue if it happens over and over again. The more frequent the arguments and intense the disagreements, the more likely it is that the kids will be negatively impacted.  

What Should We Do When an Argument Gets Too Heated?

When you notice things starting to veer off course, try to get back on track. Say things such as: 

“That came out the wrong way, let me try again. What I meant to say was…”

If you are not able to get back on track, then it’s appropriate for everyone to take a break. Simply agreeing on a time to revisit the discussion is especially helpful when fighting in front of the kids. For instance, you could say:

“I love you, but it isn’t appropriate for us to talk in front of the kids this way. Let’s talk about this later.”

Making a point of showing some affection to your partner is important as well. This lets the kids know that you and your partner still care for one another even though you disagree.

What Else Can We Do If We Still Have Trouble Fighting in Front of the Kids?

If you struggle to best manage your habit of fighting in front of the kids, try putting yourself in your child’s shoes. Work to see things from their perspective. For example:

  • Would you see the adults talking in a calm manner?  
  • Are the adults affectionate toward one another?
  • Do you observe them reaching out to each other?
  • Would you see both adults respectfully disagreeing, without attacks?
  • If they do get into a fight, do the adults make up afterward?

After making these observations, is the answer is “No” to any of these questions? If so, then, most likely, these fights are negatively affecting your children. It’s important that you and your partner get help and professional support to resolve these issues.

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Fighting in front of the kids, if it happens consistently, can leave lasting effects. However, there is much that you and your partner can do to mitigate the damage. You can even provide learning opportunities for your children when it comes to resolving conflict.

However, if you continue to have problems, please ask for help from a therapist skilled in couples counseling.

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