“Not in front of the kids.” This is a common refrain spoken between parents when they are in the midst of a heated argument. But there is an interesting opinion out there that engaging in some forms of verbal fighting in front of your children may actually be beneficial to them and that this open arguing may lead to an “increase in children’s emotional security.” Huh?
I come from the school of “not in front of the kids,” so the concept that arguing in front of children is a good thing goes against every instinct I have. But I think I may have to change my stance after reading Andrea Petersen’s piece for the Wall Street Journal, entitled “The Family that Fights Together.”
“Kids are going to have disagreements with their friends, their peers, co-workers,” says Patrick Davies, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. “If they don’t witness disagreements and how they are handled in constructive ways, they are not well-equipped to go out into the world and address inevitable conflict.”
But there is a fine line. The benefit is when children are witnesses to healthy marital debates, not fights that include “hostility, threats and insults.” The latter can lead to, as the WSJ notes, “anxiety disorders, depression and behavior problems.”
Does everyone agree with Patrick Davies and his call for children to witness arguments? Of course not. Personally, I think I would tend to agree with Thomas McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If [parents] are going to have disagreements, they should do that in private as much as possible,” says McInerny. “It is the rare instance when [couples] can keep it rational and keep it calm.”
My husband and I rarely argue. But when there has been tension between us, or if either of us starts to give the other attitude or to speak in a raised voice, our daughter gets a very concerned look on her face and tries to fix the situation as best she can like. She interjects with such insights as, “Daddy didn’t think your meatloaf was bad — it was just a little burnt. He usually loves your cooking!” I think she reacts like that because we aren’t the types who argue, especially not in front of her, so it’s out of character for Mommy and Daddy, and therefore scary. This makes me wonder if we are doing her a disservice by not having instances of “constructive” marital conflict in front of her. Will she not know what to do when she is confronted and engaged in an argument? I hope she will be fine, and I honestly think she will be. She’ll just (hopefully) have less arguments in her life by being raised by parents who are much more lovers than fighters.
Do you argue in front of your children?
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