Marriage and Family Therapist
Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross is a licensed psychotherapist with almost twenty years of clinical experience in the fields of clinical psychology and organizational management. She has worked extensively with a wide variety of…
Arguing in Front of the Children
Posted in Anger Managemen... by Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on Mar 27, 2009


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.


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I even worry when people talk about disturbing and/or adult issues around young kids. War, crime, rape, theft, sex, sexually-transmitted disease, hackers, malicious divorcee or ex, whatever... even stuff in books and movies. Most of it I'd really rather not have my younger relatives be exposed to. Some of their parents buffer them from it but other parents don't. I'm trying to be vocal about it without seeming judgemental or bossy. But some stuff is better left unsaid around kids. Actually, I think most ADULTS could benefit from less exposure to the negativity too. I wish we'd spend more time discussing what we're thankful for and appreciating the beauty in life. Nevermind the other junk.
By MudPuddLe  Apr 22, 2009
I am a firm believe in NOT arguing in front of the children they are already confused enough as it is, at least that is what I see in my children and grandchildren. There is a lot of that here, I just try to get them out of the way.
By MamaDonna  Mar 31, 2009
I think being exposed to arguing between my parents has contributed to my habit of staying in abusive relationships. It was very harmful and affected me painfully and deeply.
By Loved1  Mar 30, 2009
We have major problems with one of our teens. he is 14 (my step son) and no matter what the issue is always turns in to a fight or screaming match. His mouth and disrespect is out of control and is causing problems everyday. He treats his mother the same way but is worse with me. We are trying to get him counselling for his anger and almost at end of our rope.
By djxtreme  Mar 30, 2009
Boy what a relief to read this after all these years! It was torture listening to them fight. My dad couldn't yell at his co-workers so he yelled and screamed at my mom But she never cared how it was affecting me. Even if it got violent...some how it was my fault for complaining.
By JennEileen  Mar 30, 2009
As a child, I have to say, my parents arguments have affected me and my brothers very much.
By Sara017  Mar 29, 2009
I just wanted to right a brief note saying that everything you have touched on in SO true. Right now I am trying to work on this with my husband because after going through it in my family growing up it has started to rear its ugly head in my marriage. It is just a matter of couples being willing to accept that they are not perfect, not always making the best choices, and they can take a little time to improve on their relationship.
By lfrancois  Mar 29, 2009
Interesting, I answered yes to all questions in paragraph 5, except for the alcohol. He doesn't drink.
I feel so helpless b/c when he argues or starts a fight and says very nasty things, I say nothing back and have done so for years. He said tonight, "when your Dad dies, I am not even paying for the pine coffin to throw him in." (My Dad is the only parent I have left) So, how do I get my power back? I am so tired and done. And, sick of keeping my mouth shut. He never apologizes, ever. I'm miserable. When I was visiting my sister he even texted my phone pictures of my "messy" house so my sister could see what a horrible housekeeper I am and how I had better get home and start cleaning. Seriously. He spends every paycheck too, we are broke. So, where do I go from here, how do I start over?
By sisterof4gals  Mar 29, 2009
Again, I have to comment that these rules apply all over. Not just in just the home or for parents, but those that have the responsible to model these conflict resolutions. As in our schools; and those that run youth programs, etc.

As it stands, it does take a village to raise a child. I feel that if was have some positive role model contact outside of my home that I was fortunate to have gain some sense of need outside what I thought was normal in my home environment.

Children to Adolescense developing to adults with only publicized news or media information must have some meaningful positive experience to gain some perspective on communicating effectively. Unless, I was able to feel the positive and understand, more I could relate and guide myself towards that. Being raised in an undeveloped means of communicating, it took a while in my own development - and I'm still growing. (Thanks for info.) lol
By it2speaks  Mar 28, 2009
When I was a kid my dad didn't care who was listening when he started a fight. When I was 5 the yelling scared me so much I'd go hide in a closet and cover my head until my mother came looking for me. To this day loud noises really upset me.
By ALC67  Mar 28, 2009
I hope people really read and listen to your words. I grew up in a hostile home. I retreated inward myself, and vowed to never have kids on the off chance I might become like my parents. I am passive agressive, among other things, though I am in therapy. I finally had enough and moved without telling them and cut off all contact. I hope your article saves some kids from the kind of hell I went through. Thank you!
By dee33710  Mar 28, 2009
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