Arguing in front of little ones: How does it really affect them?
Understanding how arguing in front of your baby does affect them
Arguing in front of your kids – yes or no? We tend to divide between polarised beliefs. Some say, “Any argument witnessed by a child is traumatic and should never happen” and others “I saw my parents argue and it never did me any harm!” Which is true?
Well, in common with many similar situations, it’s a little of both and it depends. Is it OK because:
They won’t understand. You may feel while your children are very little they won’t understand what you’re saying so it doesn’t matter. Or, as they get older they may understand the words but not the complex issues behind any adult disagreement, so again, it won’t matter. Neither is true. Kids aren’t stupid and what they are very good at is picking up on emotions, atmosphere and body language. Whether you’re enraged or miserable, your child will know something is wrong, even if they don’t or can’t put it into words.
It’s OK as long as they can’t see or hear? As the saying goes, walls have ears. You may think your child can’t overhear your rows, but you’d be surprised how sharp their hearing can be. And you can’t keep it under wraps for ever. Once they start walking, as sure as eggs is eggs, they’re certain to walk in at the exact moment you raise your voice.
It’s real life. You may console yourself with the thought that this is who we are and how things are - people argue and the sooner they know it the sooner they can adjust to it. But do you want a child to ’adjust’ to seeing people demeaned, berated or shouted down? Even if it may have been your experience of growing up and you may feel it toughened you up and you survived. Are you sure you survived in the best possible way, to be the best you can be?
Why you need to sort out your differences. If your child grows up seeing your conflicts being hurtful and damaging, you are not the only ones who will suffer. Some children in such situations copy either the angry parent who gets the upper hand, or the downtrodden parent who seems to find themselves on the losing end of the argument. Whichever, they may well think this is normal and repeat it rather than looking for solutions.
So, can seeing you argue ever be helpful? Yes, if what your children see is a positive rather than negative argument. Negative argument is destructive, repetitive and never ends in resolution. It’s when you raise your voice, hurl insults and try to hurt the other person. Positive arguments are different. They may arise over strong feelings and a conviction that you are right, but they proceed with both of you not only putting your case calmly but listening to and talking on board the other person’s point if view. Positive arguments reach a conclusion – you negotiate, compromise and come to a consensus. And seeing their parents doing that is the best lesson children can perceive – that people can disagree but that they will respect and protect each other and aim to meet halfway.
Bounty “Sex & Relationship” articles are written by expert Suzie Hayman. Suzie is agony aunt for Woman magazine, a Relate trained counsellor, and an accredited TripleP (Positive Parenting Programme) parenting educator. She makes frequent appearances on TV and radio and as well as writing 31 books, Suzie writes features on parenting, relationships, sex and couples counselling, for a wide range of national magazines and newspapers