We all try our best not to, but sometimes it happens- fighting in front of the kids. Having kids can be a major stressor, not only for people on an individual level, but for couples as well. There's a lot of responsibility that comes with parenting and running a household, and that's on top of the regular couple things that might come up between any two people in a relationship.
However, we are often told that you shouldn't fight in front of your children. This can be difficult due to to the fact that they probably live in the same house as you. And as anyone who has been in an argument can attest to, it can be easier said than done to just put off a fight in the heat of the moment for the sake of the kids. But in reality, it might be really important for their development that you do.
Fighting In Front Of Your Kids: They Internalize It
According to Dr. Anna Yam, Ph.D, a Clinical Psychologist and the owner of Bloom Psychology, "When a child observes parents or caregivers yelling at each other, depending on their age, they may not understand what is being said, but they understand and often absorb or internalize the underlying intense emotions."
According to Dr. Yam, this is important because of the difficulty children can have with emotional processing. The experience of witnessing fights between their parents has the potential to lead to further issues up the road. She states, "When they take on this additional emotional load, it becomes more fodder for tantrums and behavioral outbursts or even behavioral problems. Most things a child sees us do is us modeling behavior for them. If they see parents or caregivers yelling, the child absorbs the lesson that yelling at another person to express emotion is appropriate."
And apparently you can't always depend on their reaction to be an indicator of how they are processing the disagreements that they are seeing. Dr. Yam states that "Over time, some children develop a habituation to yelling in the house, and can seem impervious to raised voices. This is also a form of internalizing and can be a sign of budding emotional and mood issues that could manifest later in development."
Fighting In Front Of Kids Can Be Helpful, If Done Right
Although there are clearly some issues that can come along with a child seeing their parents fight, some experts think that witnessing these fights isn't always a terrible thing. Joe Martino, Mental Health Therapist and author of the book, The Emotionally Secure Couple presents a different perspective- maybe you should fight in front of your kids.
He states that it can actually be helpful for kids to witness their parents fight. According to Martino, "How else will the kids learn how to fight in a healthy way when they are adults?"
Martino posits that not fighting in front of the kids can lead to some negative effects. He states that this can lead to "kids never learn[ing] to develop the ability to sustain a relationship through the tension of knowing that someone is mad or angry at you."
This can have the effect later in life of the individual not having picked up the ability to have a "healthy argument". Furthermore, Marino warns that it can "give kids a false impression that negative emotions are bad.... [and] wire kids brains to see any disagreement as trouble."
However, Marino recognizes that not all fighting can set a healthy example. He continues to state that "parents need to learn to fight in ways that are productive and safe. No name-calling. It should go without saying that violence should never be tolerated." Furthermore, he notes that "Relationships are hard and kids should learn that fighting can be done in a healthy way. People will disagree. Sometimes, people will get mad. Learning to control ones behavior in those moments is paramount to a healthy adult life. Having this modeled for them, will set kids up for success."
Fighting In Front Of Kids Can Be A Good Lesson
So although witnessing fighting can be detrimental for kids, if modeled in a correct way, it may help kids to recognize and resolve issues in a mature way. However, according to Jan Harrell, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, and Author of Love Now ~Untangling Relationships,the real goal should be to provide kids with a decent example of conflict resolution that doesn't need to include fighting at all. She states "It is important to learn to discuss and resolve our differences without fighting. That is the true goal and gift for our children to learn".
She continues, "Fighting is a sign of the inability to “separate” from the other person. It is difficult to accept the fact that although we may be bonded to each other, we have different needs and perspectives on reality. Fighting is a demand that the other be just like me." She suggests that instead we should "look at our partner as a being with their own reality, needs and solutions. We each need to focus on acknowledging the validity of the other person’s experience and try to create something that will work for both of us, well enough. If we do not focus on understanding each other, the “fight” turns into a battle about whose reality is correct… and that never turns out well!"
Ultimately, one thing is for sure. Kids are always listening and learning, and we need to be mindful of that when it comes to matters of communication and resolving conflict. Children learn so much about how to interact from what they see from their parents. It's so important to try and make sure that the example they are being given is more helpful than harmful. And this might mean putting that big fight off until later.