Effects of Parental Fights on Children

When you and your partner are having a disagreement, should you hide the fact from your children? Some experts say a firm “yes”.

Losing our cool. It happens to just about everyone, but when you and your partner are having a disagreement, should you hide the fact from your children? Is it better to whisper in hushed tones while the little ones are asleep, because arguing in front of them causes irreparable damage? Martin Seligman, author of “The Optimistic Child” has discovered that children do indeed find fights between mom and dad disturbing. “We tracked a group of 700 children between grades three and six and asked which kids get depressed and go through their first bout of depression. We found 20% of them do, and that the thing which most leads to depression is parents fighting.”

While Dr. Seligman recognizes that fights happen, he also suggests we try to keep them to a minimum. “Conflict always happens and it would be sophomoric of me to tell you not to fight in front of your children. But I think you should minimize it and when you do fight, make up in front of the children because we found if you do that, then the damage to the kid is minimized.”

While fighting in front of children is disturbing, family therapist Marion Balla feels it’s okay for children to see that parents don’t always agree. “I think it’s normal for children to see that their parents are different and don’t always see things the same way and don’t always have the same values, because that is reality.”

But Balla adds that while it’s okay for your children to witness your disagreements, she agrees with Seligman that children also need to see how you patch things up. “It’s really critical for children to know how it (the disagreement) got resolved. It’s very important for children to see that somehow mother and father figured out a way, and that the parent needs explain to the children how it did get resolved. This teaches them that people can solve problems, even after being emotional and upset, and that they can have differences, and still get along.”

But if it looks as though the disagreement may become very heated, it may be better to save the discussion for later. “We all put money in the bank to save for our children and deprive ourselves of things in order to save for and give things to our children,” explains Seligman. “Fighting is like that. Often we want justice from our mates, so we fight. But we should think about saving it because there may be damage to the kid from fighting. If you do fight, make up in front of the kid.”


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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