Fighting Fair: Never Argue In Front of the Kids
Wow! It’s been three weeks since my last blog! I’m sorry, time got away from me.
In my last blog, Never Bring Up the Past; It Always Goes Bad we learned that using predictive statements like “you always” and “you never” assumes that you know the future because of the past. Even worse, it’s a trap because it implies there is no possible chance that a person can change.
In this blog, let’s take a look at one of the most common (and preventable) sources of childhood trauma: parents yelling at each other in front of their children.
When I was around 6 years old, I remember vividly sitting on my mom’s lap while my dad yelled at her. I remember what he was wearing. I remember the color and style of the chair my mom and I were sitting on. I remember details of the room we were all in. I remember crying and I remember my mom telling my dad to stop yelling because I was crying. That incident was over four decades ago. I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday, but I still clearly and easily remember that horrific argument. According to E. Mark Cummings, a psychologist at Notre Dame University, when parents are destructive, the collateral damage to kids can last a lifetime.
Why? Because the children look to the parents for protection in their great, big world. When they see their protection attacking itself, their little brain can’t process it. I won’t bore you with the biology, but suffice to say, a child literally does not have the brain resources developed yet to understand, reason, and thus develop some mental self-defense mechanisms to process the trauma they’re witnessing.
In the heat of an argument, many parents do not initially think about what impact their arguing might have on their children. If you’re Fighting Fair, you’ll not yell and/or excuse yourself and your partner to continue the conversation in private (I'm describing you if you've been reading my blogs). But for those parents who routinely yell and argue with each other in front of their kids, the emotional and psychological damage stacks up.
“When parents repeatedly use hostile strategies with each other, some children can become distraught, worried, anxious and hopeless”, says Dr. Diana Divecha, a developmental psychologist. She goes on to describe that some children become aggressive towards others, suffer sleep disturbances, is frequently sick, and go on to develop learning problems.
Is your argument worth that?
Relationship conflict is unavoidable. I simply do not believe people who have told me they never fought with their spouse. Perhaps their conflicts are quickly resolved before they get out of control, but conflict—to whatever degree—is inevitable.
So what to do when the kids are around? According to a 2017 study by Nan Zhou, an associate professor in the education faculty at Beijing Normal University, and Cheryl Buehler, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, parents who expressed warmth and empathy toward each other during arguments also fostered a sense of security in their children that their families would be OK, according to their two-year study of 416 U.S. families.
My challenge to you is to allow your children to see you and your partner problem-solve together. Remember: Your spouse is not the problem; the problem is the problem. Let your kids see you and your spouse work together to solve the problem. Show your children how to cooperate and compromise. Let them see you calmly put yourself in time out, just like you might have done to them when they were younger. Explain to them that adults need a break, too. Teach your children the art of debating, where ideas are challenged and people are respected (an art form that is deeply needed in our divided America, right now).
I would be remiss if I failed to mention this: My parents love each other. They’re not perfect people nor perfect parents, but I cannot recall a significant argument in my presence ever again. That argument I witnessed never caused me nightmares or any debilitating emotional wounds. I wish I never witnessed it, however, its lasting impact did teach me to not argue with my wife in front of our kids.
The final blog for this series discusses passive-aggressive behaviors, and how it keeps the coals hot for the next argument.
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