couples

Read this if you've ever had a fight in front of your kids

I’m ashamed to admit that my husband and I have fought in front of our children. We never mean to. We’re having a conversation and before we know it, we are embroiled in a disagreement.

We try and argue quietly, but the kids still pick up on the tension.

A couple of times we have yelled, and then quickly walked away from each other so the kids don’t get scared. To be continued…

The first time we seriously fought after becoming parents was when Philip was two. He was playing in his room and we fought in the lounge room. During a pause in the argument our little boy walked out, walked past us staring with scared eyes and wouldn’t come near us.

We were devastated and swore never to do it again, but we did.

Fighting in front of children is never a good idea, but it’s not the end of the world. Dr Dawn Baker, a Perth-based child psychologist and mother of three, says fighting in front of your children doesn’t necessarily damage them. She says it depends on the age of the child and how you explain yourselves afterwards. “Younger children are more likely to believe that they are the cause of the fight, which can make them feel very anxious and guilty,” she explained.

She also says it depends on the kid of argument. Minor disagreements between parents who usually communicate well are less damaging than more serious fights.  “When arguments become emotionally intense or nasty, this is very difficult for children: they may feel that it’s their fault, or that they need to get involved and protect a parent. Of course, verbal or physical aggression between parents is never okay. ”

Fights that are verbally or physically abusive cause children to feel insecure and can increase their risk of behavioural problems.

Dr Dawn says arguing is a normal part of every relationship and that hiding an argument behind closed doors is not the answer because children usually pick up on it anyway, especially when the atmosphere is hostile. She says, “If parents find themselves becoming very angry and upset, the best thing to do is to try to calm themselves down by removing themselves from the situation until they are more in control of their emotions, and then to return and try to resolve the issue calmly.”

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If you have had a fight and your kids have witnessed it, you can repair the situation, as long as there has been no verbal or physical abuse. She says it’s important to turn the fight into a positive for your children because kids tend to copy behaviours they see at home. “It can be an opportunity to show your children how to resolve conflict in a healthy way: through negotiation, compromise, and by using warmth and humour.”

Dr Dawn encourages us to explain to our children that everyone has disagreements. Then, explain the argument. For example, say something like, “I felt angry because I was tired and daddy was late home.” She says this will encourage your children to recognize their own feelings and to express them verbally.

“You can also explain – and show – that people can have arguments but still make up afterwards, and that in the end, they still love each other,” she added.

If you and your partner find yourselves on the brink of a fight you can take the following steps:

1. Turn around and walk away if you feel it escalating. Hold your hand up or use another visual cue with your partner to signal that you will pick up where you left off later;

2. Put your children’s needs ahead of your own by controlling your anger;

3. If necessary, write down your key issues and discuss them calmly later when the kids aren’t listening;

4. Try and avoid words like ‘anger’ and ‘hate’ out of your vocabulary and replace them with feelings like ‘fear’, ‘hurt’ or ‘frustration.

Do you fight in front of your kids?

Dr Dawn Barker is a Child Psychiatrist who works with families affected by mental illness. She grew up in Scotland, and studied Medicine at Aberdeen University. In 2001 she moved to Australia, completed her psychiatric training and began writing. She has published non-fiction articles on parenting and child psychology for various websites and magazines.  

Her debut novel is Fractured and is on sale now. Click here for more information.