Few among us can say we’ve never fought with our significant other within earshot of our brood. (If my hubby and I received a medal for every time we’ve quarreled in front of the four wee ears in our house, we’d probably be record-holders.) From the amount of butter he puts on his toast to who lost the spare car key (which was found in a pair of his old jeans, thank you very much), the metaphorical gloves have come off and we’ve had it out with the kids around.
Parenting expert Judy Arnall and family counselor Kathy Eugster say having the odd argument with your spouse when little ears are around isn’t that detrimental; in fact, it’s good for them to see conflict and disagreements — but only if you’re fighting fair. There are also techniques you can use to keep arguments at bay when the kids are ringside. Here’s how to do it:
Fight respectfully. Parents should be role models when it comes to teaching tots conflict resolution. This means that swearing, put-downs, harsh criticism, sarcasm, mocking, hitting below the belt, name-calling, aggressive facial expressions and threats of harm and intimidation are all inappropriate when kids are nearby. (Heck, it’s inappropriate when you’re arguing behind closed doors, too.)
Take a break. Before you get into a spat and say something you don’t mean or something you’ll regret, take deep breaths, count to 10, take a time-out, write down your feelings and agree on a time to work the problem out.
Use I-statements. Instead of placing blame on your spouse (“YOU always do this!” “Why can’t YOU listen?”), try saying things like, “I’m feeling angry right now. I’m going for a walk and we’ll talk later.” This shows your kids that you’re taking ownership of how you feel and that you need time away from the situation. (It also tells your partner that this discussion isn’t over and you’ll be bringing the topic up again after the kids go to bed.
Demonstrate making up. Not only is it important for kids to see the discussion of the problem or conflict between mom and dad, it’s key for them to witness the resolution. So be sure to apologize, hug it out and kiss and make up.
A version of this article appeared in print in our April 2012 issue with the headline “Fight club” (pp. 56-58).