It is absolutely okay to argue in front of kids – but within reason and with some boundaries! First, it’s important to understand that if children grow up seeing their parents never argue, then they themselves may become conflict-averse. As we know, you cannot avoid conflict completely, nor is that advisable. So while it may feel more comfortable for parents to take their arguments behind closed doors, if they are age-appropriate for the children to grasp and resolvable in front of them, and don’t involve yelling or put-downs, then you’re probably in safe territory.
As stated, when you argue in front of kids you want to be mindful about the example you set. The guidelines I am about to lay out are challenging and will take practice and patience.
- Choose the content wisely. If you are arguing about something heavy, like an affair or are arguing about children, save these more heated topics for private moments. There are things children are better off not knowing. You want to argue about topics that children won’t internalize and misunderstand or believe are about them. Leave parenting and adult matters for later.
- Keep your voices calm and steady. Avoid yelling or other behavior that is frightening to children. This includes name-calling, put-downs, throwing things, and obviously any kind of violence.
- Model empathy. Arguments are a great opportunity to model active listening and putting yourself in your partner’s shoes. Try repeating back to the other’s point of view. Your children will see that you are listening and care about the other parent.
- Resolve the argument in front of the children. Come to some kind of resolution! This may even look like, “Sounds like we strongly disagree on this. Let’s finish dinner and circle back to it later.” It’s okay to put the brakes on an argument if you feel it is tipping into something inappropriate for children to witness. If both parties can agree to disagree (for now) and come back to it when the children are not present, you are still creating a temporary example of conflict resolution.
Arguing can be an opportunity for children to learn about relationships and the cycles of conflict and repair, which can help them create realistic expectations for their current and future relationships. That being said, too much arguing can result in anxious children. If you find yourself arguing too often in front of children or too intensely, couples’ therapy can provide a safe space to work things out away from kids.