Opinion

Why you should argue in front of your kids

Ian Mendes thinks arguing in front of kids can teach conflict resolution in a positive manner.

1CouplesFighting-January2014-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with wife, Sonia. 

Unless you are one of those lucky couples who were part of an arranged marriage, there is a good chance that you have had some arguments with your spouse over the years.

Sometimes, the disagreements are over trivial things—like the time we had a heated debate about whether Tracy Chapman was a man or a woman. (One of us may have been quoted as saying, “I really enjoy his music.”)

And other times, we clashed over more serious topics such as financial planning or whether our kids should be baptized Catholic.

No matter how long you have been married, you can guarantee that a disagreement is on the horizon between you and your spouse. Most of the time they are over minor things, but sometimes they can build over time and create a tense situation that needs to explode.

And when you are having a disagreement with your spouse, one of the most common phrases you will hear is, “Let’s not do this in front of the kids.”

Read more: Relationships: Are you fighting too much? >

You often wait until after the kids are in bed or out of the house to truly air out your problems. Most experts would agree that not fighting in front of the kids is the healthy route to take. Everyone’s favorite TV psychologist Dr. Phil agrees with that theory, as he laid out his thoughts in his recent blog post.

I’m probably not qualified to argue with a guy who has Oprah on his speed dial, but I am going to take exception to a couple of things that he said in this post.

Dr. Phil’s first point is that “Children learn what they live. Stop and think about what you’re teaching them.”

While I completely understand what he is trying to say here, I think he is missing a bigger point. If you don’t have some arguments with your spouse in front of the kids, they are going to grow up thinking that you had a perfect relationship. You are teaching them that parents never fight and that they are always on the same page. We all know that isn’t true, and as a result you are giving them a slightly warped sense of reality.

So when that child grows up and gets into a relationship of their own, what will happen when they have a disagreement with their partner? They will think to themselves, “Well, this isn’t right. My parents never fought at all.” And they won’t have the basic understanding that couples should have some disagreements over the course of their relationship and that it’s totally acceptable and normal.

Read more: 5 good ways to argue >

The other point that I want to counter in Dr. Phil’s blog is when he says, “Stop being a right-fighter. The kids don’t care who is right. They just want you to shut up.”

But by just clamming up and bottling up your emotions when the kids are around, you are not necessarily teaching them how to be problem solvers.

Having a disagreement with your spouse in front of the kids can actually be a teachable moment for them. How many times have they come home from school and talked about a disagreement with a friend on the playground? And the response we usually give them is to talk it out and apologize if necessary.

But it seems hypocritical to me that we wouldn’t use that same advice in our relationship with our spouse. Instead, many of us opt for a moment to yell at each other while the kids are sleeping. That isn’t how we expect them to handle their conflicts and yet that is often a route we take as parents. And maybe having the kids around for some conflict resolution in your relationship is a good thing, as it will force you to try and solve the issue without using hurtful or negative language.

I should point out that if you’re fighting in front of the kids constantly—like on a daily basis—that is not healthy for anyone.

But if you have the odd disagreement, you shouldn’t hide from trying to resolve that conflict in front of the kids. You actually have an opportunity here to teach your children about conflict resolution in a positive manner.