Berkeley Parents Network >
Parenting, Families, & the Community >
I'm looking for opinions about what's appropriate in terms of
arguing in front of your children. My husband and I have what
I would call a healthy and normal relationship. We do, on
occassion, get into arguments (usually about totally
meaningless issues... you know how that happens...) that can
become heated. Although we don't yell loudly at each other, we
do sometimes raise our voices. My husband believes that our 2-
year-old son gets concerned and worried when we argue, and he
believes that we should try to shield him (our son) from
hearing us argue. He (my husband) has bad memories of his
parents fighting and hiding in his room and feeling scared. He
doesn't want to subject our child to that. I, on the other
hand, want our son to have a healthy perspective on
disagreement. I want him to feel that it is okay to disagree,
and okay to argue, but that doesn't mean you don't love the
person you disagree with. I'm not sure that hiding
disagreement/conflict from your child is the best approach.
Any thoughts? I'm wondering if others have come up with some
good ideas on how to handle this, especially when your child is
still very young.
Disagreement and arguing is a normal (and necessary) part of any
relationship. I think it helps us to understand our partners better and
it brings us closer together. I agree with you -- your child should
learn a sense of healthy disagreement. My hubby was raised in a
household where he never once witnessed his parents argue. I, on the
other hand, was raised in a very abusive family where arguing and
yelling was all too common.
This created some friction in our relationship when we first started
dating since he had learned to be submissive and I had learned to be
argumentative. He did not know how to express himself and I didn't know
how to amicably end an argument. I think arguing (and making up) in
front of your child teaches them a valuable lesson in communicating with
I think the important thing to show your child is how to RESOLVE the
conflict, disagreement, arguement, whatever.
I do think that at 2 1/2 y.o. child doesn't need to witness your
arguing, mainly because it's probably just scary to him, and what kids
need at this age is security (well, at all ages really!) but ultimately,
as your child gets older and has more comprehension skills, I would say
that you are correct in feeling that your child needs to see ''healthy''
disagreements between you two, but as I said, also needs to see
''healthy'' resolutions as well. I have a step daughter who has never
learned how to face, let alone deal with conflict or conflict resolution
because her mother was of the same opinion of your husband. This is a
very important life skill.
It sounds like your husband also grew up in a household where healthy
resolutions to problems/arguements/disagreements were never presented to
him. How does he deal with conflict?
I have a younger daughter (6) that gets upset sometimes when her dad and
I fight (which isn't that often - currently ;-]). She'll say to us,
''Stop arguing!'' To which we both reply, ''it's ok to argue or to have
disagreements, as long as you can come to a solution in the end.''
There is no way to avoid conflict in ones lifetime. Better to prepare
your child for it and with tools to show them how to do it effectively
your allowed to disagree!
You stated that ''I want him (my child) to feel that it is okay to
disagree, and okay to argue, but that doesn't mean you don't love the
person you disagree with. I'm not sure that hiding
disagreement/conflict from your child is the best approach.''
Perhaps you should look at disagreement and argument as being different
from each other. A husband should be able to tell his wife in front of
his children that he disagrees with her.
It's just a different point of view. If his wife is OK with it, and the
couple can discuss their perspectives calmly and openly, the child will
to respect the value in voicing disagreement. If his wife chooses to
argue with raised voice about it, however, the child may learn instead
that stating disagreement is disrespectful.
Well, I'll weigh in from one side of the equation: my parents made a
conscious choice to never argue in front of their children, and I don't
think that was ideal. I didn't get to see that people who love each
other disagree and get angry at each other sometimes, that this is a
normal part of a healthy relationship, and that they are not destroyed
by this and still love each other afterwards. Both myself and my sibling
had some catching up to do as adults, learning how to deal with
I think today I still wouldn't want to have a major fight in front of my
child, but I don't plan to act like life is all sweet and light 24/7
I see both sides on this. Generally, I agree with your husband.
While I am not a psychologist, I think that any heated arguments should
be taken to another room - not in front of such a young child; he's too
young to get it. However, as the child gets older, I think having
''discussions'' that show adults engaging and problem-solving together,
where both parties present their sides and compromise, negotiate, etc..
is a good thing. My parents were confrontation-averse, and as a result,
my sister and I, I believe, really didn't know how to deal with
confrontation, arguments, etc.. But, I think this is for when the child
is much older.
Confrontation averse adult
I agree with you that children benefit when they can see adults disagree
and still be respectful of each other, and then arrive at a healthy
resolution. In my mind, however, healthy arguing does not involve raised
voices. I also think any topic related to the kids would be strictly off
I was just talking to my therapist about this very same type of
situation. I've noticed at times when I'm talking calmly to my husband,
but am trying to convey my anger or frustration to him, my daughter
picks right up on it -- even at age two she did.
Nowadays she tells us things like ''Guys I don't like how you talk like
that'' and back then she would just try really hard to get our attention
-- likely to deflect the mood. I'm not exactly sure how to handle it
other than to just plan to talk about it after the kid is asleep or the
two of you are alone.
But, from what I understand from my therapist and my husband who grew up
with parents arguing a lot is that as a child I think you really look to
your parents to be solid for you -- a stable force that's there for you
24/7. And seeing (or even sensing) parents fighting, arguing, or even
quibbling is stirring up that sense of stability that they so strongly
I think your husband is right, but I'm not exactly sure what the answer
is. And while I agree with you about letting her know that people
disagree and it's okay later, I think kids are so here and now --
meaning if they see it happening, to them its a scary thing and they
can't comprehend a resolution at that time. And these things have so
much more of an impact on them in their young and inexperienced lives.
Good luck -- I'm sure lots of BPN folks have suggestions on how to hold
off the discussion until later.
Wondering how to disagree too
One time when my husband and I were bickering in the car, our then 18 mo
old daughter put her hands over her ears and said ''Too loud!'' Since we
weren't speaking that loudly, it seemed clear that our tone was
bothering her. I agree that a healthy relationship has honest
communication and an open response to conflict, but lots of bickering
and heated arguments are not great for kids to hear, and frankly aren't
that great for the relationship. I've heard, and I agree, that in a
relationship one needs to say 5 positive things just to make up for 1
negative one (or have 5 loving interactions to make up for 1 arguing
one--and really, who has that kind of time?) After the car incident, my
husband and I made a conscious effort to not bicker or argue in front of
our daughter and to save arguments for when we were alone. Not only was
our child happier, but we ended up arguing a lot less and having a
better relationship as well. (I had to admit that it wasn't always
necessary to tell him every single thing I was feeling right when I felt
it. This wasn't always ''honesty'' on my part, but a lack of maturity
and an inability to wait until a more appropriate time. Usually, by the
time we had an opportunity to talk about something, I realized that it
wasn't that important in the first place or if it was, then I had time
to think of a succinct and respectful way to tell him what I was feeling
and it didn't always turn into an agument.) You and your spouse don't
always have to agree, but your disagreements should be respectful and
stated in a calm tone.
Anything else is needlessly stressing your child.
arguing less & much happier
I've thought a lot about this issue and I know the developmental
research about the effects of parental conflict on children fairly well
(I am a child psychologist). I think it is a good idea to limit fighting
in front of children. HOWEVER, the only way to do this is to fight
after they are fast asleep or when you are not all in the house together
(not always realistic options). I think if kids are anywhere in the
house and there is tension between parents, the kids will know it.
Furthermore, I agree with you that while parental conflict causes some
anxiety for most kids, it is also good for them to understand that
people can argue and still love one another. The key is to resolve the
dilemma in front of your children. Hug, kiss, come to a decision/
agreement, whatever. So, I would say that some conflict in front of
children is OK, as long as no one is getting really hurt and as long as
the kids see the resolution.
I'm with you. I don't agree with sheltering your kids from everything.
Kids need to know that disagreements can be worked out. But this being
said, I think it's VERY important to keep in mind how you argue and when
it's happening in front of your son, to try to keep an eye on him as to
how uncomfortable he may be. It sounds like you are already being aware
of these things. My husband and I also have had arguments in front of
our 18-month-old. It's actually helped US be more constructive with our
arguing! The other aspect that we ABSOLUTELY do, is calm down, talk it
out and make up in front of our daughter so she understands the whole
process. If we are in a more serious fight in which we can tell we will
need a ''long talk'' we reserve those for when our daughter isn't
You may want to discuss with your husband what kinds of fights he
remembers. Did he run away from heated disputes or full- blown out
angry fights? How did his parents argue and make up? I think it's all
in the way it's handled.
I'm no expert but I have two young children, a Masters degree in
Counseling, and work with disturbed children and families, where this
issue definitely comes up. My take on arguing in front of your children
falls more in your camp with a healthy dose of ''be careful-this is a
slippery slope''. The episodes may also feel less severe to you than
they do to your child, who can not communicate that with you. Along with
all the other great advice I'm sure you will get on this issue is my two
1) Watch your child for signs of fear, becoming withdrawn, appearing
tuned out during your fights, trying to redirect your energy by acting
up during your fights, trying to mediate (when he gets older). If you
see these signs you may want to shield him more from your arguments than
you thought you had to or modify the way you argue.
2) Try not to draw the argument out too long in front of your child. If
you need more time state that you will talk about this later.
3) Make sure that if you want your child to see healthy arguments that
he also EXPLICITLY sees healthy empathy, fighting fair, giving in when
it really is a trivial argument, I statements, your taking appropriate
time outs when it gets too heated, explicit confirmations of your love
DURING and after the storm, and apologies. All the things you hope he
will learn to do, you have to model.
4) Try not to argue in the car where you child is trapped (as are you)
and can't get away if he feels he needs to.
5) Never involve your child in your arguments or argue about him in
front of him
6) NEVER name call or put the other parent down in front of your child
7) NEVER become aggressive - in tone or action. Something that seems
harmless to you (throwing something down in frustration, slamming your
hand down on a table, or slamming a door) may be very scary to a small
I'm sure there's much more I could add and I'm sure you will get lots of
advice about great books you can read on the subject. I suggest you pick
one up so you can get an unbiased view of the issue.
A very wise extended relative of mine once said, when I asked her what
the key to a happy marriage and children is, "Always be polite". Easier
said than done but a good standard to strive for.
Striving for a healthy balance
I have heard that it's not your child seeing the arguing that matters
most, it's your child seeing the reconciliation. This carries over,
too, to your arguments with your child. Make sure you have an honest
and true reconciliation. Model for your child what you want in your own
I, too, grew up in a house where my mom and stepfather argued...
horrendous, ugly, screaming and shouting, dish throwing arguments. I was
distraught; my younger brother was terrified and hid in his closet. Now
that I'm a mother of an adult male, and in a *healthy* relationship
wherein most arguments don't escalate to ugliness, just somewhat heated
disagreements, I would say that there is a fine medium; children
shouldn't grow up believing that no one argues, particularly when they
inherently know when there's some disagreement going on but no one's
owning up to it, i.e. parents are hiding all their arguments for the
sake of the child. I do think it's healthy to have HEALTHY disagreements
in front of children. I do think also that major arguments/disagreements
need to be saved for a time when the child isn't within hearing
distance. I say, don't hide it when you're pissed off, but don't make
act they don't happen, either.
Anony and not Screaming
I too have been wondering about this - my husband and I have been
dealing with a profound amount of stress and have ended up in situations
similar to yours and I was beginning to worry about the effect on my
child too. I read as much as I could find and this was generally what I
found: excessive/constant marital conflict can have a negative effect on
your child but that a normal level was okay so long as your child sees
you MAKE UP too and sees that you work through it. Other suggestions I
found helpful were to make sure that your child sees you both being
loving to each other at other times (hugs, laughs) and to also be
careful HOW you argue ( no assault on character- stick to the
issue) and to be good listeners and not interrupt (it takes a little
practice!). I have tried to do less arguing in front of my 2-y.o but
when it's inevitable, I try to be a little more conscientious about how
we conduct our disagreements. My child picks up very quickly on our
stress and so if I sense he's upset by our argument, I'll find an
appropriate moment to tell him that mommy and daddy are just talking
about XYZ and we were feeling frustrated but everything's okay. I'm with
you and think its okay for kids to see a healthy range of emotions. My
husband grew up not seeing ANY arguments between his parents and
consequently thinks that conflict=divorce rather than growth and goes to
great lengths to avoid conflict (in an unhealthy martyrdom kind of way).
My husband and I are going through a divorce. We have been arguing since
day 1 in front of our son, who is now almost 4. I have done a lot of
reading lately about how this arguing (pre and post divorce) affects
kids of all ages. It is terrible. It is not healthy. It does scare them,
a lot. So your husband is right and I think that his personal experience
on the subject (as the recipient) should be testimony that he is right.
However, on a more personal note from me about your opinion that it is
not healthy to hide conflict from your children, I say that you are
right too, in a way. Kids will inevitably see disagreements between
parents, but it's not about disagreeing, it's about HOW you disagree. I
would say that trying to curb your arguing in front of your child is
best - but you WILL still argue sometimes in front of him. If you can
show him how to disagree in a healthy, respectful way (not yelling, not
getting personal, no name calling, etc) and that afterwards you two are
still very much ''together'' - I think that is a healthy example and
sends a positive message about the reality of relationships. And does it
in a way that does not scare the child. I only wish my husband and I
were able to follow this advice. Perhaps it would have saved our
marriage and prevented our son from acting out and being aggressive due
to the fights.
I am guilty of this and I definitely think it is upsetting to the child
(not to mention, you and your spouse). My 2 year old now tells us to
stop talking! They will imitate whatever you do so unless you want to
have discussions with your child similar to the ones you are having with
your child, watch it. I agree with you that conflict is unfortunately a
part of married life but there are people who work it out really well
(ie, not just waiting until the child is in bed to yell at each other)
and the rest of us should try to emulate them.
I have a hard time stopping an argument, even in front of my young (18
months) son, so I can relate to this. I have also thought that maybe I
am teaching him about conflict etc., but the truth is, I am out of
control when I fight in front of him, and our kids, IMO, are too young
to make the kind of connections about relationships you describe. All
they know is that something unnerving is going on, and they become
anxious. I really think you should make an effort to stop fighting in
front of your son.
I can see both sides. I was one of those kids who hid under the bed
whenever my parents fought. They raised their voices and slammed doors.
I also want my child to learn appropriate ways of handling
disagreements. The solution I have with my husband is that we don't
raise our voices. If we feel that heated about an issue, we wait until
we're calmer and more clear headed, then discuss the matter. Similar to
the way I'd handle a disagreement with a co-worker or other person I
Still cringe at raised voices
It's a fine line between modeling how to successfully negotiate through
disagreement, and yelling at each other. There is nothing wrong with
''heat''. There IS something wrong if you can't play fair, be
resolution-oriented, both compromise to meet your goals, and most
importantly, speak in civil tones (not raising your voices).
If you do all that, by all means, teach your child by example how this
is done. If you don't, then the problem is with you (not to point
fingers. Many have this problem, me included). Discuss hot topics later
in privacy. As your child gets older, perhaps he can be around more of
these adult interactions without fear. But for now, he may only learning
to be frightened and to raise voices.
Apparently, your husband learned that well as a child, and now he does
the same thing. See what I mean?
Children need to feel safe and secure
My ex sister-in-law and my 18 year-old niece came by to my home
for a homemade lunch over the weekend. Recently, my niece has
had a few mishaps with her mom's car and has caused some dings,
accidently inserted diesel instead of regular gas to the car's
engine, (a $700 expense), and unfortunately that same day, my
niece scratched the car. While we were having lunch, the mom
announced that my niece lost her driving privileges, which in
turn infuriated my niece who begged and pleaded and explained
that what she did were accidents and were not done on purpose.
My ex sis-in-law repeatedly stated ''Well, if you really cared
about other people's property you wouldn't have done any of
this.'' The mom continued to lambast repeating blow-by-blow
detail of each car mishap, forecasting future mishaps, and
rebutting my niece's expression of sentiment stating the crying
wasn't going to change her mind. They then erupted into shouting
match as I felt myself tremble with fear as I felt the hate and
disappointment in the air with my husband and sons who were in
the backyard asking and wondering if everything was okay.
Suddenly, mom then asks me what's my opinion on the matter and
placed me on the spot. I could understand the point of view of
both but I didn't want to say anything as I doubted anything I
said would make a difference and feared I would say something to
make things worse. It was the first time I had ever seen my
friend display such rage and hate under any circumstance whom
I've invited to my home many times. The gathering felt really
uncomfortable and I regretted having had invited them only
because the situation had turned so horrendous. That night as I
lay my head to sleep, I couldn't help feeling regretful of my
own poor actions toward my own mother apologizing in my mind for
treating her so poorly and wishing I wasn't so mean to her. But,
nevertheless, I love my niece and her mom and I felt tremendous
sadness after they left wondering what their memories will be of
each other but felt it was unfair and wrong in placing me on the
spot. I wonder if I should call the mom on it
You're right. You were pulled in. Did you say to them what you told
us: that nothing you could say would make a difference to eaither of
them while they were in the heat of anger? You were right about that,
too. I'm not sure there's much you can do at this point, except talk to
your own family about how much that encounter upset you, and perhaps
talk about ways to never let such a situation (anger that does not allow
you to even hear the
other) happen in your own family.
Your s-i-l was wrong to pull you in, but the conflict between her and
your niece sounds pretty run of the mill to me. Teenagers' total lack
of consideration for the personal property of others can be very
aggravating and frankly, the consequences her mom was imposing don't
sound out of line to me. I think you handled it just fine not to side
with either party, however. Look at it this way - a useful learning
experience for you - a preview of the coming attractions of
teenager-hood for you!! And -- it shows they really consider you a part
of the family if they fight in front of you.
I'm sorry your lunch was anything but savory. At this time, I recommend
that you let this event fly over. However, if your ex sister-in-law asks
you, tell her that you while you sympathize with her, you don't feel
comfortable taking sides and that it's up to her to decide what to do. I
know it was an unpleasant experience, but I wouldn't be too concerned as
it is normal for families especially teenagers to fight once in a while
and not all get togethers are pleasant. I would only be worried if it
happens again. In that case, I would tell her that you don't feel
comfortable with her fighting in your house. Hopefully, it won't come
down to that and you will have many future happy meetings with your ex
sister-in-law and niece. Anon
Well, it sounds like you don't have teenagers in your house...
I think it was wrong for your ex-SIL to get into a hot topic and then
ask your opinion on it. I think it's appropriate to call her on that,
asking her not to put you on the spot like that but that'd you'd be
willing to talk one on one. I think you're being a little harsh on your
ex SIL. As lovely as your niece may be with you, teenagers are different
creatures with their parents. We have a 15 year old in our house and all
I can say is that it's like having a baby, if you don't have one, you
have no idea what it can be like. Our friends can find our son's moods
humerous and chuckle and role their eyes, but after it while it can wear
you down. I'm sure your friend wasn't talking with hate, but more out of
frustration of constantly having everything turn into an argument, as it
can often be with a teenager. Our son will walk into the house just
looking for an arguement sometimes and pushing our buttons by doing
things he absolutely knows are inapproriate. He's a great kid, with
great moments and we are always getting reports of how polite and
considerate he is. But at home our job as parents is to give him
something to rebel and push against, and that he does. I rather he show
his teenage angst that way rather than doing poorly in schoold, drugs or
running with the wrong crowd.
He shows no respect for our things, but god forbid we should even touch
the door knob to his room. Anyway, your friend's outburst was
inappropriate, but maybe she had just been pushed over the edge after a
culmination of other arguments.
You did the right thing by not getting involved. I don't think it's
necessary to ''call''
them mom on her inappropriate putting you on the spot. That would be
getting involved. She probably realized as soon as you answered that she
shouldn't have asked. Let it go and don't worry too much about their
fight either. They will be fine. anon
this page was last updated: Mar 10, 2007
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network