When you and your partner argue do you realize the impact it has on your kids – they are watching too? So many of us get into relationships, get married and even divorced and never really consider what we are teaching our kids about having intimate relationships. As parents, we all argue or have heated discussions in front of our kids’ from time to time.
It’s not a conscious act on our part most of the time, but it’s still one that affects our children more than we imagine at the time. In fact, conflicts between parents are seen as an early mental trauma for kids as per the majority of the family therapists.
So, what do think you are teaching your kids about relationships?
In our professional opinion, arguments between two people, even if they are not the child’s biological parents, are one of the first things kids are negatively impacted by. When kids witness the constant strains building between two important people in their life, it damages their own relationships in the long run, even when the fights become a thing of the past. We have even heard plenty of adults saying something along the lines of, “I will do just about anything to un-see my parents fighting.” If that doesn’t clue you in about the damage you can do by having arguments in the presence of the little ones’ ears, give this article a read to understand the subject matter in grave detail.
How Your Child Interprets an Argument
People make a common mistake of thinking that their kids don’t know what their parents are talking about. Believing in this misconception, they discuss their issues without worrying about the after-effects of arguing in front of a child. However, research suggests that even babies can detect their parents’ emotional conversations, even if they can’t interpret the meaning behind it.
To make it clear let’s understand how your child interprets an argument by separating them into four distinct age groups:
1- Young Babies and Toddlers
While they seem oblivious to the world around them, babies and toddlers can tune in to your body language and vocals when you’re upset or engaged in a heated conversation. You might even be having a lively debate about filling a particular health form. However, your child can only sense that the two people they love the most in the world are yelling at each other.
As for the preschoolers, they have a knack for taking responsibility for everything, even if your conflicts have nothing to do with them. They think of themselves as the center of your universe. So, you would be fighting with your partner about paying bills, but your kid will think that maybe if they hadn’t bop their sister on the head, their Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t be fighting.
3- Early School Goers
Children between the age of five and ten usually suffer the most in high-conflict homes, as they are overly emotional and assume the worst of every situation. They also have trouble at school and connecting with friends because of their mentally depressed state. Moreover, when parents mislead them by brushing off the matters and saying that everything is alright when the truth can’t be farther from it, it messes up a child’s mind in the long term.
During this stage, kids are known to cut off their emotional ties with most things. We’re more than aware of this phase, as we all went through it in our teens as well. Kids this age try to construct a rational connection about each scenario, understanding their limitations and their parents’ relationship under a microscopic mind state. More often than not, we see only two types of outcomes in such cases. Teenagers either learn from these situations without repeating the same mistakes in their life, or they don’t let go of their past, letting it distress their future in the same way.
When You Do Fight, Fight Constructively
When fighting with your partner, you must remain vigilant if your kids are watching too. Children think of you as their role model 24/7 so they observe and copy how to behave in times of anger. If you’re fighting unfairly, it’s highly likely that’s what your child would be doing when he or she finds themselves stuck in a similar situation.
However, there’s also an upside to showing anger in front of your kids. That is to educate them about how they could deal with their pent-up emotions the right way. Here’s what you should ensure when you decide to fight with your partner with their well-being on your mind:
1- Organize Your Thoughts First
Before you begin discussing the issue firsthand with your partner, it’s best to organize your thoughts in a mannered fashion. You can even press the pause button in between your conversation to gather your ideas so that you could stay on point the whole time rather than straying off-topic.
2- Maintain Control – Stop Yelling!
We all tend to get loud when angry. However, while adults can relate to this factor, your kids aren’t experienced enough to know that. Besides, yelling is never the key if you want your discussion to remain under control. So, lower your tone and be in command of your body language to exhibit a calm demeanor.
3- Kids are Not Referees.
Kids should never be asked to divide their loyalties between parents. If you think that your child is favoring one side of the arguing party more, consider a red flag that you might need to tone down.
4- Do not Debate for Winning.
Arguments should be taken objectively rather than something that results in a winning and losing side. Simply put, debates should be seen as a medium to resolve conflicts. So, when your child sees you solving your problems through this channel in a respectful manner, they will learn how there’s always more than one way to settle an issue.
5- Talk About Behavior, Not the Person
Rather than blaming your partner for the arising issues, a healthy alternative is to discuss the problematic behaviors. When you stop playing the blame game while deleting the words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ from your conversations, it creates an example for your child to react adequately when they feel mad about something.
6- Check Up on Your Child Time and Again
Even when following the five practices mentioned above, you should also ensure your child is not affected by your conversation. Kids are sensitive beings, so you should check upon them repeatedly to make sure they are alright.
7- Show Affection in the End
Lastly, when you show physical affection to your partner after resolving a conflict, like hugging them or kissing their cheek, it gives a sense of satisfaction to the kids. When they know their parents are happy even after the stressful debate, they know everything is alright and they don’t have to worry about anything.
Taboo Topics, Never to Be Discussed Around Children
While being a role model means you have to show your kids how to react in stressful situations practically, that doesn’t permit you to talk about certain topics that should be considered taboo for kids. Here are a few issues that should never be a part of you and your spouse’ conversation when the little ones are within earshot:
1- Money Talk
The arguments you have in front of your kids should be simple, not foreboding. That’s why talking about financial worries in your child’s presence should be a big ‘no.’ Instead, it’s preferable to send the message that they don’t need to worry although the money is tight, as you’ll take care of them.
2- Issues You Have Fought About Before
Things that you have already fought about should never be discussed again when the little ones are around. It makes them think that talking rationally doesn’t actually make any difference.
3- Anything Concerning Your Child
While presenting a united front for your child is essential for their proper upbringing, that doesn’t mean the decisions you make for them together should be discussed in front of them. Set aside time to make important settlements and discuss issues you think your child is encountering, either at home or school.
4- The Worrisome ‘Might’ Talk
We ‘might’ have to move. I ‘might’ lose my job. He ‘might’ need to switch schools. These are the kinds of dangling talks that should be avoided until there’s a solid plan of action that you can share with your kids.
5- Your In-Laws
Making your child a spectator while you have a heated discussion about each other’s family is also a no-go area. Their innocent minds should not be subjected to this kind of politics.
6- Your Sex Life
We can all agree that your kids, no matter what age, don’t need (or even want) to listen to you and your partner having that kind of intimate talk.
How to Stop Fighting in Front of Kids
We understand that collecting yourself when you are all ramped up and angry about something is easier said than done. However, when there are kids involved, you must practice and stick by specific measures to avoid stirring the conversation towards a wrong turn.
Here’s a series of steps you can take to stop arguing in front of your child:
1- Agree on a Visual Cue
The first thing you can do for stopping a heated debate before it starts is to agree upon a visual cue or gesture well in advance. For example, you can hold up your hand as a signal to indicate a fight is brewing and the kids are watching. Upon acknowledging the sign, you and your partner can settle down and continue discussing your issues when your child isn’t around.
2- Walk Away.
When you equate loving your kids with controlling your impulses, it becomes easier to walk away from a situation that’s bound to end up in an out-of-control conflict.
3- Write Down the Points That Need to Be Discussed
After walking away, you should make a list of things that riled up your emotions in the first place so that you can still discuss them with your partner in a kids-free zone. Brushing the matters under the carpet will only stay hidden as long as no one lifts the rug again.
4- Replace Anger with Your Real Feelings
However, before striking a conversation with your partner about the impending matter, it’s better to tone down your emotions and replace the anger with the feelings that caused you to react badly initially.
5- Encourage Constructive Communication
Once the anger is out of the picture, you can encourage your partner to have an open and honest discussion with you. Moreover, when both parties make conscious efforts to keep their fights private, it automatically builds in them to make it easier for each other to share without worrying about upsetting anyone.
6- Find a Mutual Solution
Without bringing any unhealthy emotions into the mix, you and your spouse can quickly find mutual ground and find a solution that doesn’t end up in a big blowout.
7- End It with Affection
Lastly, how you finish your conversation also leaves an impact on your mind, preventing you from stringing up future fights. When your conversation ends on a good note, both you and your partner prefer retaking the same path to resolve the conflicts.
Need Help? Contact a Relationship Expert at Marriage Means Moore
We strongly recommend talking it out with a professional relationship coach if you think your conflicts have started to put a strain on your kids as well. Let our life coaches at Marriage Means Moore give you their expert opinion and advice regarding how you can communicate constructively with your partner without pushing your child into the middle of it.
Schedule a confidential session with a coach today, and we promise to get your life back on track in less than 90 days! In the meantime, you can visit our website blog where we have several articles to help you overcome relationship-related issues.