Should You Argue in Front of Your Kids?
As we think about life skills that we want to teach our kids, like washing dishes, balancing a bank account, and keeping a clean home are a few things that may come to mind. However, how to have a respectful disagreement should be high on that list.
There are two schools of thought on the topic of arguing in front of children. One group; don’t do it. The other, how do you not? There are a few things to consider as we open this Pandora’s Box.
I have friends that have said, “My parents never argued in front of us”. Still, others who have been traumatized by fights and disagreements have ended with hurt feelings or worse. But perhaps there’s another option. The problem with the former, many may think there’s something wrong with their relationship if they argue if they’ve never seen it done properly. The latter can leave lasting scars that can cause relationship issues for your kids for years to come.
There is a clear distinction between fighting vs. arguing. Fighting generally involves hurtful words, name-calling, raised voices, and more. It can also be accompanied by the desire to point out all the reasons you’re wrong and I’m right. These kinds of fights are unproductive and can harm your marriage as well as demonstrate poor behavior for your children.
On the other hand, arguing is a difference of opinion. It can include a heated yet controlled discussion, difference of opinion, and an underlying desire to find a place of agreement. I would suggest that the latter is something we should willingly be doing in front of our children. And here’s the reason, in life, we will disagree with others. Your kids will grow up and face conflict with family members, teachers, bosses, and in relationships of their own.
As role models for our kids, showing them how to resolve marriage conflicts in a mature, healthy way will leave an impact on them far beyond childhood. Setting an example for our children about how to disagree or argue respectfully, is a valued life skill that some have not been taught.
Teaching this life skill does come with its own warnings and things to watch out for. Here are five tips to keep in mind for how to argue in front of your children.
Dos and Dont’s of Fighting in Front of Your Kids
- Don’t Involve the kids. Don’t ask for their opinion, ask them to pick a side or involve them in any way. They love both of you and having to side with one parent over the other can lead to feelings of letting the other parent down. Followed by, thoughts of abandoning or hurting the other parents’ feelings. You never want to undermine your partner’s authority as a parent in front of your kids just to win an argument.
- Don’t fight about the kids in front of the kids. Disagreements that directly involve issues relating to your children (poor school performance, discipline strategies, not liking your child’s friends, etc.) should not happen in front of the kids themselves. Have these hard parenting conversations in private in order to ensure that your children don’t feel guilty or responsible for causing the problem.
- Do call a time-out if things are getting heated. Just like you may give a child having a tantrum a brief time-out to calm down and collect themselves, taking time to breathe helps arguments stay under control. Before the disagreement turns into a full-blown fight, ask if this is a good time to pause the discussion. But, set a time to reengage or you risk one or both parties feeling unimportant and ignored. It’s much easier to address concerns once people aren’t as heated.
- Do listen with the goal of hearing and understanding the other person. As opposed to, listening for the pause to jump in and make your point. We’ve all done it. We have the zinger of a comeback or a one-liner that will shut down the whole discussion but we’ve failed to hear and understand what our partner is saying. Instead of trying to “win” the fight, practice active listening and good communication techniques.
- Consider using mirroring as a way to confirm with your partner that you’ve heard and understood their point. Mirroring is a non-verbal communication technique that involves copying/responding to the other person’s body language and behaviors. This can help people feel more at ease and acknowledged.
- Do seek resolution. And remember, if you argue in front of the kids, let them see the resolution. Many times we argue and resolve it later. Try not to leave the cliffhanger for them. Demonstrating healthy conflict-resolution will actually help your kids grow their own social and emotional skills that will stick with them in the future.
It would be impossible to live life without disagreeing or arguing. This is not among spouses or couples only, but also coworkers, supervisors, and other relationships as well. Along with how to properly load the dishwasher and how to cook a basic meal, let’s send our kids into their futures and adulthood with how to have and handle a disagreement.
Being able to have a difficult conversation with tact and respect can mean the difference between living a life of conflict or a life of peace. What a great gift to send our kids into their futures with.
Deborah Porter is a sought-after, influential voice on parenting, motherhood, self and soul care. She is a champion for moms everywhere and works with mothers globally to guide them through the process of learning to be gracious with themselves without the need to compare their motherhood journey with anyone else’s. Deborah is a certified life coach and regular contributor on CBS Virginia This Morning. Her advice column, Balance Life with Coach Deborah in Washington Parent, helps parents navigate the chaos, find their balance, and not lose themselves in the role of mom. For more information visit www.deborahporter.net. Deborah’s complimentary Confident Mom e-book and additional tips are available here.