In an article posted on the BBC, they talked about the negative affects that might arise as a result of arguing in front of children. On the surface, arguing in front of children sounds like a bad idea. And there’s a chance that it is. But like most things in life there is more to this topic than first meets the eye. So I’m going to ask one very simple question: is it really a bad thing?
What Damage Does Arguing in front of children actually do?
There’s no doubt that persistent, destructive arguing can be damaging to not only children, but of course to the parents themselves. Maybe it’s not quite as damaging as smacking children, but it’s still not a great thing to over do. Research from the University of Sussex stated that “when parents engage in conflicts with each other that are frequent, intense and not resolved, children do less well.”
When it comes to raising a healthy, stable child, I like to take the Brain Rules for Baby approach. In that, John Medina basically says that one of the best ways to raise a happy child is to work on your marriage or relationship. One way to do that is to work on positive, resolution based arguing.
But it’s also true that intense arguing can be a bad thing even for babies. I said in my post about colic that “the happier the relationship between the couple, the lower the amount of colic experienced.” So even babies recognised the danger of a situation and went into survival mode.
Could you just hide the arguments from your children in the hope that if they don’t see it, they won’t be affected by it? Sure. But it’s probably not a very good idea.
Arguing in Front of Children – should the arguing be done in private?
You’ve probably heard the phrase “not in front of the kids” before. And on paper it seems like a good idea. If the children don’t witness the argument then perhaps they won’t think something is wrong, and then they won’t be affected by seeing their parents verbally abuse each other. Makes sense, right?
Well, not really. Think back to the last time you argued with someone. How did you feel after the argument was over? Were you still irritable? Perhaps you were still a little stressed, agitated, or even worked up in some way. Now fast forward to your next interaction with your children.
What happens if the emotions from that argument stay with you, and you’re irritable or short with your children?
Chances are they’ll wonder what they’ve done. Wonder why their mummy or daddy is suddenly mad at them. But if you’re upfront and honest, and let them see the argument, then perhaps they’ll better understand why you’re like it. There’s also the fact that very rarely is an argument quiet enough to not be heard by others in the house. So you’re not always exactly arguing in private.
I’ll even be honest enough with Isabelle and say “sorry, daddy isn’t feeling the best, I’m a little irritated because I’ve argued with mummy” despite the fact at her current age she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. But it’s important to establish these things early.
It’s also important to note that when you do argue in front of your children, try to let them see you make up too. That way they get to see both sides of what happens with arguments and actually learn some important life lessons. John Medina from the book mentioned above even states that “If you have a fight in front of your children, reconcile in front of your children.” The next important thing to think about is the arguing itself.
There’s a big Difference between Toxic Arguments and Ones based on Resolving a conflict
When it comes to arguments many people have vastly different interpretations to what that means. It could mean a calm disagreement about something that you have opposing opinions on. Or it could mean something that ends in things being thrown. We all have our own perspective on what we view arguments to be. But on a personal level, there are two types that my wife and I engage in. One where we disagree on something and need to resolve the issue, and one where we’re simply agitated and stressed at something and merely need to vent. In regards to the latter, we have one simple philosophy that we try to uphold.
Sometimes You have to give into the theatre of an argument
Arguing is a perfectly natural part of life, and sometimes you have to give in to the theatre of it. It’s a good thing getting things off your chest via an argument. I’ll be teaching my daughter that it’s better to say something, even if it upsets someone, than keeping things held in and slowly allowing them to eat away at you. That is far more likely to create a toxic environment than if you just let it out. A hard truth is better than an easy lie, even if it does lead to confrontation.
When myself and my wife have a stress induced argument, which is quite rare if I’m honest, we often go all out. We’re not afraid to throw a good insult or two at each other and just go for it. We might be agitated and annoyed whilst we do it but we give in to the theatre. We know what it is that’s going on and the things we say shouldn’t really be taken that seriously. It’s just about getting that release that comes from letting the anger out. And there’s also a part of me that likes to say that one thing that pushes my wife too far so she gets quite annoyed. That’s usually when I’m a little bit like this:
It’s about how we resolve the argument
I’ll admit that this probably isn’t the best thing to teach our daughter about arguing, but then learning to not take everything so seriously is an important life lesson.
Things might get said, but they’ll be coming from a bad place in the heat of the moment. So once the argument is done it’s a literal case of ‘end scene’. You have to respect the fact that the person might not have really meant what they said, and anger does things to people that they sometimes can’t always help.
When we are done we simply hug it out and laugh it off. Often I start laughing and smirking after a while anyway as I tend to struggle to take things too seriously. Especially when we’re arguing over something trivial and petty. I allow our daughter to see us hug it out and laugh about what just happened. We don’t allow the argument to continue into the rest of the day and if there is anything that actually needs resolving – and it’s not just a need to vent – we discus it calmly. Which brings me to the next style of arguing.
There’s a big Difference between a full blown argument and a heated disagreement
I think it’s important to remember that our role as parents is to teach children about real life. Arguing in front of children is an easy way to show them exactly what’s inevitably going to happen when they’re older. They’re going to argue, so it’s better to teach them how to do it correctly.
That’s why you have to teach children the purpose of an argument. I honestly try to never let things get to a point where we get into a full blown argument like mentioned above. There is a big difference between a heated disagreement and an actual full blown argument. The latter requires the theatre mentioned above, but the former requires a bit more nuance.
What an argument is actually about
These days it feels that the whole point of arguing is quite stupid. Just shout a lot, don’t listen, get aggressive, and tell the person that your opinion is the only possible right one. Social media has ruined people’s ability to argue. It’s very easy for people to get heated very quickly and often for very little need. Just because you’re morally right going into an argument, doesn’t mean you have to ram your point over.
It’s not about winning. It’s about understanding and problem solving. Having a discussion is about trying to take on the other persons point of view and relate to how they might be feeling. It’s about seeing fault in your actions as well as the person you are talking to. As research says, it’s about stabilising a rocking boat and allowing the other person to be heard.
When you look at things with honesty, empathy and a bit of self reflection you can then try to work to some solution. And that should be the main goal of any disagreement.
Do I always get it right and take my wife’s opinion on board? No. I’m human. And sometimes I dissolve an argument into a verbal point score. But I acknowledge the fact I cocked up when I do and we try again.
I personally think it’s important that Children see both of these arguments
Whilst I will admit that the first style of arguing mentioned above can become a lot more toxic to children if done regularly, poorly and negative emotions stick around. I will say, that in my opinion, both of these styles can be allowed to be seen. They need to learn how to apologise. How to not take something so seriously in the heat of the moment. Learning to let go and learning to resolve problems are important skills to learn. But one that might be even more important is not arguing in the first place.
You could just Try Not to Argue in the First Place – if it’s that easy
Here’s a great, albeit patronising bit of advice: If you don’t want your children to witness you arguing, then try not to actually argue in the first place.
Of course sometimes they can be unavoidable. At times, they can even be beneficial. But if you constantly find yourself feeling stressed, over-worked, and under vocalised, then chances are you’re going to argue more often. It’s much harder to keep a discussion about something on point when you’re already feeling stressed and annoyed.
You have to be fully aware of how you’re feeling and try to keep yourself in a better place. Calm, relaxed, open-minded people just don’t have full blown arguments as often as people feeling the opposite.
Get into meditation if you can, be open and honest with your partner, and seek help if you find yourself feeling regularly stressed. You know what calms you down, so just try to do those things. Take a look at yourself and your relationship and honestly ask yourself how often you argue, and why you even do it. If you’re doing it regularly then chances are there are some issues that need to be worked out.
I might be wrong on a lot of this – so do what you feel is right
This is basically up to you. The easiest bit of advice is that if you don’t want your children to be affected by arguments, then put yourself in a position where you don’t argue that often. And when the inevitable happens, just be open and honest with your children. Don’t bother sugar coating what you’re going through. Try and talk to them about what they’ve seen if you did argue in front of them.
Children are far better off being exposed to the truth rather than some distorted version of it. But that’s my take. You might have a completely different idea, and that’s what life is all about. If you disagree I guess we could do the obvious and argue about it.