Have you ever had an argument with your mate and been so caught up in the moment that it takes you a while to realize there are little ears present? Each family has its own style of arguing and disagreeing. Some families tolerate raised voices and others have a more quiet measured way of having disputes. Children learn very early what how to interact with regard conflict and these styles stay with them for a lifetime.
Within certain parameters differing styles of arguing are acceptable. There is no exact right way to get angry but there are certain boundaries and rules that should be adhered to. With respect to how couples fight please see my blog from May 15th, 2008: All is NOT Fair in Love and War. When you add children to the equation a new set of rules enter into the picture.
It is a mistake to think that just because children seem to be distracted or not paying attention to the argument that they are not being affected by it. When parents argue, children don't care about who wins or loses the battle, they just want the fight to be over. They can become afraid, feel unsafe or insecure, and may either retreat inward or become outwardly aggressive. Make no mistake, they are taking it all in. They are laying the foundations for how to resolve conflicts in their own life with adults, peers and later a mate.
In heated arguments lines may be crossed and things may be said that are completely inappropriate for a child's ears. We aren't on our best game as parents when we are emotionally charged. Children have a very difficult time respecting their parents when they see that their parents don't respect each other.
Fights happen in families and families without any conflict raise a red flag of concern for different reasons. How we argue, disagree and find resolution is crucial. Talk to your partner about your "fighting style" and determine at a peaceful moment if how you interact when you fight is truly appropriate for your children to see and hear. Do you name call, belittle or launch personal attacks? Do you raise your voice to the point of screaming? Do you threaten to leave or end the relationship or conversely throw the other person out of the house? Do you reveal personal things such as sexual issues or financial problems? Do you insult your mate's parents or children from another relationship? Do you argue when you have been consuming alcohol or any other substance? All of these things are off limits and should never be done in front of your children. The reality is that none of these things listed are healthy or effective ways to argue and they are all detrimental to the relationship. When children are present they become irresponsible and at times even abusive. It goes without saying that arguments should never include physical fighting and when physical aggression is used between partners in front of the children it is considered child abuse and in some states it is even reportable to Child Social Service agencies.
Establish your family's rules for conflict resolution, and when you and your mate do argue let your children see how you resolve the problem and how you return to a better place in the relationship. If you do feel you have crossed the line in the presence of the children, talk to them about it and apologize. Let them know that you shouldn't have spoken that way to each other and that you will work on a better way of disagreeing with each other. Just because your child doesn't bring it up it doesn't mean that they haven't been affected. Begin to listen to how you and your mate sound when you are disagreeing with each other and work on censoring your content and keeping your tome in check. This is an essential part of parenting.