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Not In Front Of The Children: How To Have Constructive Arguments

He hasn’t helped with breakfast, you’re exhausted and the kids are playing up. Prime time for a fight. But could – and should – you suck it up until the children are in bed?

Yes, we know it’s not ideal to argue in front of our  kids – we’ve heard how they absorb stress levels and think it’s all their fault – but most of us still do it at one time or another. It’s almost impossible not to. Lots of us worry not just about how this tension affects our children, but also whether we should work harder to control our emotions, at least until the little ones are elsewhere (so we can kid ourselves they’re not listening).

THE RIGHT KIND OF ROW

Remember, however, that arguing in front of your kids isn’t all bad. Hearing a moderate amount of disagreement can actually be beneficial to our children, but only if they see that you can make up afterwards – and you show them how. This means it’s not a good idea to start a row, then end it behind closed doors.

‘Listen to each other’s point of view, express your feelings and calmly find a solution together,’ says relationship expert Sarah Abell, author of Inside Out: How To Have Authentic Relationships With Everyone In Your Life. ‘Show each other lots of love afterwards, too. This way, we give our kids an effective example of how to resolve conflict that they can later use themselves.’

Lots of us worry about how aruments and tension affect our children

REACHING BOILING POINT

Of course, if a row escalates, it’s not always possible to resolve it immediately. ‘When you feel like raising your voice, swearing, using derogatory language or belittling your partner, you do need to take time out,’ says Christine Northam, a relationship expert with Relate. ‘Young children identify strongly with their parents and don’t separate themselves emotionally.

So, if you shout at their dad or insult him, for example, it can feel like an attack on them.’ And it’s not just full-blown rows that are upsetting – constant bickering can also cause distress for kids caught up in the tension and negative atmosphere. ‘You need to recognise when your arguments are causing your children distress and anxiety.

If they’re trying to stop you, putting their hands over their ears, being unusually quiet or attempting to referee the dispute, it’s time to change your rowing habits, or take them elsewhere entirely,’ says Christine.

COPYING CONFLICT

It’s not just toddlers and older children who you should be wary of upsetting. ‘Even newborns pick up on the raised voices and stress surrounding arguments,’ says Christine. The other danger is that, as they grow and find their own voice, your little ones will also copy what they hear and see.

‘Kids learn the most from watching us –  not from what we say – so as well as copying our good habits, they may reproduce any aggression and rudeness in their own relationships,’ says Sarah. ‘It’s important to decide the model you want to present to them.’ She suggests reflecting on your own parents’ rows and how their actions made you feel. 

AGREE TO DISAGREE

Resolving how and when to row can be tricky, especially if you deal with conflict differently from your partner, but it’s an important step towards a calmer home life. If you’re caught up in a cycle of rowing with no real resolution, find a time when you and your partner are getting on well and work out what kind of relationship you want to demonstrate to your kids.

Ideally, they should see lots of affection between you, particularly if they are also seeing the squabbles. ‘Laying some ground rules also helps prevent rows happening in the first place,’ says Christine. So, go big on the love as you try to mask those stressed-mama meltdowns (even if he’s still tweeting).   

 
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