What if we argue in front of our child?

All children are exposed to parental arguments. Some parents quarrel frequently and openly without considering their children’s reactions and other parents argue in private. Yet parents can’t hide the fact that they disagree. Kids are aware of yelling and arguments going on even behind closed bedroom doors.

When parents argue in front of their child, they may frighten him: “Are you and Dad still in a fight?” “Are you getting a divorce?” He may go to sleep scared and go to school worried. He also may take sides and yell at the parent he believes is at fault: “Stop telling Dad what to do all the time. Then he won’t be so mad!” “Just leave Mom alone. Don’t keep fighting!”

He may blame himself for his parents’ quarrels: “If only I’d listened to them more, they wouldn’t fight as much.” “Maybe if I were nicer to my sister, Mom and Dad would get along better.” Such wishful, magical ideas are very real and powerful.

While problems arise when parents expose their child to frequent arguing, there are problems when parents try to hide their arguments. They may do this because they believe disagreements will frighten their child or they feel he shouldn’t know about their difficulties. They may hide their quarrels because they had been frightened as children by their parents’ fights. They want to spare their child the uneasiness they once felt.

Pretending that all is peaceful, however, can have negative effects. Their child may not understand that disagreement is a natural part of any close relationship. Instead, he may believe that angry feelings aren’t appropriate and he may not allow his own anger to surface.

Children at times need to hear their parents express and then resolve their differences. If a child grows up witnessing occasional arguments, he learns that anger is inevitable and that adults can handle it. The best thing parents can do is strike a balance, exposing him to some arguments and keeping others private.

If you argue in front of your child, consider his feelings. He will become quite upset if you and your spouse yell and insult each other. Control your accusations and unkind words. If you can’t do this consistently, at least give some thought to the impact your arguments have on him.

He may need reassurance after hearing you fight: “Even though Dad and I argue, we still love each other very much.” If you’re uncomfortable saying this, offer some other words of comfort: “I know it’s hard for you to hear Dad and me fight. We’re trying not to disagree so much. It takes a lot of hard work.” Listen to his questions and let him express his concerns.

Remember that he considers you a model. Every day, you show him how adults and couples behave. If you and your spouse don’t treat each other with respect, if you yell, insult each other, and argue constantly, your child may eventually have trouble with his own intimate relationships.

You may find that he imitates your behavior now. If he’s been exposed to frequent blaming and discord he might treat his siblings in ways you find unacceptable. You may find yourself demanding, “Don’t treat your brother that way. That’s not nice.” “Don’t talk to your sister like that.”

If you and your spouse argue frequently, consider seeking professional counseling. When you are able to get along more harmoniously, your entire family will benefit.

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