Is fighting in front of your children ever a good thing? An ABC News article says, it depends. In the article, Dr. Gordon Harold, a researcher at Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, parents can argue in front of their children but should do so with caution. “It would be unrealistic to say that , you know, parents should never argue or should never disagree in front of their children,” he says, “Arguments and disagreements are a natural part of all relationships.”
A three-year study showed that if even if the parents’ argument has nothing to do with the kids, if they fight the wrong way, it threatens their emotional stability. Dr. Harold says that when children are threatened at an emotional level, they show increases in negative symptoms such as depression, anxiety, aggression and hostility. A child may react to the parental fighting by becoming withdrawn or quiet, which is often overlooked or the child may become aggressive and difficult and act out while the parents are arguing in an effort to distract them. It depends on the child and how he or she process what is happening.
The number of fights is not what impact children but whether or not the fights get nasty and if the parents make up. Verbally or aggressive fights, the silent treatment, intense quarrels and arguments concerned or involving the child are the worst for children. Just the other day a couple had an argument in the car on the way to drop their son to school. There were raised, angry voices. Their son was quiet at the back, doing his work. The couple has since made up but it took time because a lot of negative things were exchanged. It is not clear how this fighting affected their son but it seems like he seeks each parent’s attention by talking about problems he is having at school, wanting them to spend more time with him and showing them scrapes he got from playing at recess.
“Arguments that are dealt with effectively that are conducted calmly that show clear messages of negotiation and resolution have positive implications for children.” Dr. Harold says. He went on to say that couples that are happy and comfortable with each other in their relationship are more emotionally available and sensitive to the children and their needs than couples that are caught up or embroiled in conflict.”
Experts say that although fighting can be damaging to kids, there are good lessons they can learn from it. Apparently, when conflicts are handled constructively, kids learn how to compromise, to use humor and warmth to solve disagreements. They also learn that it’s not the end of the world when you have a conflict with someone you love.
When parents leave the room to fight behind closed doors, the children can tell something is up, especially when their parents return and are visibly upset. I have had my son ask me if I’m ok because he can see from my face and body language that I am upset. We can’t fool them. According to Murphy, children may assume that they are to blame for their parents’ fight. According to an expert, boys and girls react differently. Boys tend to withdraw while girls try to get involved.
I remember once when my parents were arguing in the car, my sister sided with our mother. Once, when a friend’s son sided with her, her husband told him to stay out of it because it was between the two of them. It was her husband’s belief that children should never get involved when parents are having a fight. They should never take sides or say anything. They should just keep out of it and leave the adults alone to deal with their issues. Unfortunately, children blame themselves if the fights get worse.
Bear in mind that seeing their parents fight can be a very scary thing for children. It’s as bad as seeing a parent cry. I will never forget the first time I saw my mother cry. As children we always like to think that our parents are in control. It helps us to feel secure and grounded. When they fight it is as if our world is turned upside down and we feel helpless and afraid. As parents, we ought to do whatever we can to make sure that what we do will not hurt our children and scare them emotionally for life. Some children take with them into adulthood the images of their parents fighting and end up having problems with developing relationships of their own.
Murphy, an expert on these matters, offers parents the following tips:
- Count to 10 or leave the room to keep from arguing when you are upset.
- If you do get upset, reassure your children by telling them that fights happen but you do love each other and it’s not the children’s fault.
- Make up but don’t fake it. Children will know if you are faking.
The Bible offers tips as well, when it comes to dealing with conflict.
- “A good man thinks before he speaks; the evil man pours out his evil words without a thought” (Proverbs 15:28, TLB).
- “A soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels” (Proverbs 15:1, TLB)
- “Pride leads to arguments; be humble, take advice, and become wise (Proverbs 13:10, TLB)
- “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:6, NKJV)
- “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3, 4, NKJV)
Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) offers tips on how you can resolve an argument with your spouse every time here. When these and other tips don’t offer you the resolution you need, it’s time to seek counseling.