How Arguing With Your Partner Can Hurt (And Sometimes Help) Your Kid
Arguing with your partner is inevitable, and you won’t always be able to stifle it until the baby is asleep. (Oh, you think you can? Ok, go ahead and try, Mr. Congeniality. Sorry, sorry. It’s not you, it’s just that things at work have been stressful.) It’s also been fairly well established that a new kid also puts strain on a relationship. So, do you fight now, or fight later? Because whether it’s a public airing of grievances, or just a passive-aggressive silent treatment, your kid is going to catch on.
The Argument Against
Research has shown that even babies are affected by arguing parents. In 2013, researchers from the University of Oregon conducted a study that showed that infants developing brains can become tuned in to parents arguing. Brain scans showed that even as the babies slept, their noggins reacted to sounds of angry voices with a stress response. That stress response was particularly heightened in babies who had unstable home environments.
The researcher’s conclusion was that the blank slate that is a baby’s brain can be altered by being exposed to unstable parental relationships. Those changes in the brain could affect the way they deal with conflict later in life. (Pretty useful research from a bunch of Ducks.)
Another study, conducted in 2016 with older children, found something just as startling. The researchers followed 300 families and found that a kid’s emotional stability was threatened by their parent’s arguments. That was true even if those arguments had nothing to do with the kid. So, yeah, your knock-down drag-out over which Netflix show to binge isn’t doing anybody any good. (But, seriously, why not Friday Night Lights?)
The Argument For
You may not believe this, but there are plenty of child psychologists out there who say that arguing in front of your kid is a good thing. As long as you do it right. After all, it’s important for them to know that people can disagree and still love each other. Fact is, they might get into disagreements of their own, and they need to know they can hash stuff out without destroying relationships (or toys, or walls, or faces).
In fact, not arguing can be just as damaging as arguing poorly. Kids are really perceptive … it’s how they learn, after all. And they can totally tell if you’re putting on some kind of baloney happiness for their benefit. The last thing you want is a kid that stuffs their emotions down. That’s a recipe for some serious issues in the future. So consider doing this an investment in your own sanity when your kid becomes a teen.
Do It Right
Arguing poorly is bad. Also, not arguing at all is bad. So, how the hell are you supposed to point out all your partner’s flaws without ruining your kid’s life? There are actually some guidelines for that. (No, you shut up.)
You know that scene in Road House where Swayze is telling the bouncers to be nice no matter what? Then, he rips a throat out because he pulled a gun on him. The former part is good advice. You can be emotional. In fact it’s good for kids to see that a person can be emotional but still respectful and not violent. So keep your tones low and be nice. No name calling. No personal attacks. And absolutely no de-throating.
The I’s Have It
When you’re arguing in front of your kids, make sure to use your “I” statements. Your issue is not the person, but the behavior. So: “I get upset when you don’t let me watch Road House on Road House night. Which is supposed to be every Wednesday. Every. Wednesday.”
Do not hesitate to stop things where they are if there’s too much heated discussion. Agree to pick it up later. Go for a walk around the block. And while you’re at it, think about the points you’d like to make when you come back to it.
The point is not to win an argument. What you need to try and do is find a middle ground that works for you both. Basically, you want a peaceful resolution, not a military coup.
If You Argue In Front Of Them, Make Up In Front Of Them
There’s no use in making up away from your kid after they’ve seen you fight (well, the verbal part of the making up, anyway). They need to know that their parents still love each other even after an argument. But don’t force it. Your kid can sniff out that BS from a mile away. It’s also very healthy for them to see that people in conflict and work things out.
Don’t Make It A Habit
If you do find yourself blowing up at each other more than you should, your kid may be showing signs of stress it might be time to figure something else out. These signs can include withdrawing and hunching up shoulders, or even acting out during arguments to get your attention.
Possibly the worst thing you could see is a growing desensitization in your kid. That shows your arguing is becoming normalized. And that normalization may very well rear its ugly head down the road.
And, this should be obvious, but never let your kid referee a fight. If they are chiming in on one side or another, then there’s an issue. You may want to seek therapy with your partner to figure it out. Okay. Everybody hug it out now.