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Should Parents Fight in Front of Kids? - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Should Parents Fight In Front Of Kids?

April 2, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA 21 News

The stress of raising a family and dealing with a struggling economy is affecting millions of American families. Conflict often increases with stress and up to now, psychologists have cautioned couples to not fight in front of the children. Now a new study suggests that children may actually benefit from watching their parents disagree openly.

This new study taught us several things:

Parental Conflicts are Teachable Moments: These are prime opportunities to teach your children that even the best relationship experiences differences. Adults are not joined at the hip and kids are safer with two strong parents who disagree once in a while.

Conflict is Inevitable: Even the best adjusted adult reaches his limit once in a while and the marriage is the inevitable forum in which daily tensions are released. All of us snap at the ones we love the most and it is healthy for kids to see mom and dad misbehave, apologize and be forgiven.

Resolution is Vital: Even intense irritation and frustration can be instructive if the disagreement ends in compromise and resolution. Kids need to see that differences can be respected, argued about and resolved peacefully.

When parents do not fight, there are hidden dangers. Emotional disengagement is the number one correlate of divorce and parents who rarely fight may be increasingly disengaged. If you don’t disagree occasionally, you may be increasingly apathetic.

Disagreement signals that there are two adults who have separate opinions that are clashing and that each of the adults cares enough to argue about it. Such disagreements indicate that there is still connection and passion. Surrendering absolute power to another person is very destructive in marriage since it erodes self-confidence and self-efficacy. Through healthy fighting, parents, also demonstrate that each partner is empowered to stand by his convictions while working toward resolution.

Children who witness chronic and intense fighting between their parents may become symptomatic over time. If your children begin to show regressive behaviors such as uncharacteristic crying, irritability, bedwetting, increased aggressiveness or anxiety, or separation anxiety, pay attention. Parental fighting is highly correlated with childhood anxiety.

If the fighting is becoming too intense, parents should begin to take steps to resolve the tension. Remember that fighting is a learned discipline. Never let your child witness destructive, contemptuous conflict. Such exposure can be traumatic to your child.

When you argue, please remember the following tips:

  • Be concise and do not reference history.
  • Focus on constructive concerns and avoid blaming.
  • Start with something positive about your spouse.
  • Maintain empathy for your partner’s point of view.
  • Remain polite and express appreciation for the efforts your spouse is making.
  • Remain focused on achieving a successful resolution for both of you.

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