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Let The Kids See You Argue

Conventional wisdom says that parents shouldn't argue in front of the kids. It's natural for adults to lower their voices behind closed doors when tempers flare. But some experts believe that exposing your kids to bickering does have benefits.

The Early Show's Family and Adolescence Counselor Mike Riera explains the right and wrong ways to have your say when the kids are around.

Fighting is actually beneficial for the entire family, assuming you argue the right way.

If you have a question for Mike Riera about dealing with your teen, send an email to with "Ask Mike" in the subject line. Or write to "Ask Mike" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019. Your question may be featured on future shows.
Keeping your conflicts hidden deprives children of important relationship lessons, and it's also unhealthy. It's destructive for children to think that their parents never fight. This teaches them to fear conflict and gives them the false idea that a relationship can only be happy if the couple never fight.

Learning to compromise and that people can agree to disagree are among the most important lessons you can instill in your children.

Why is it good to argue with your spouse in front of the kids?

  • Reflects a normal world and normal relationships.
  • Teaches kids how to assert themselves and to compromise
  • Teaches them how to set limits in relationships, which is the essence of standing up to peer pressure.
  • Teaches them not to fear conflict. Conflict, handled well, means growth, new understanding, and respect.
  • Teaches them the art of good arguing: stating clearly, using "I" statements, listening, cooling off, seeing events from the other person's perspective, compromise, and making up.
Do NOT argue in front of preverbal kids.

How can you tell if your fighting is stressing out your kids?

  • They intervene and try to make things OK.
  • They distract you by acting out - that is, getting themselves in trouble (picking on their little brother) or putting themselves in a dangerous physical situation (standing on the counter reaching up to the top shelf) or complaining of a headache or upset stomach.
  • They leave in tears.
In any of these cases, reassure them that you are just arguing and that you still love each other and still will when the argument is over.

Are there some subjects you shouldn't fight about in front of the kids? (Age appropriateness is important; it is different if child is 6 or 16.)

  • The kids. When parents fight about a child, that child is likely to feel responsible for the argument.
  • Relatives. This is unwise for two reasonsHearing negative comments about relatives is detrimental, because the child may feel a strong bond with their relatives. On a more pragmatic level, kids are not the best keepers of secrets. Chances are, kids will tell what they know sooner or later.
  • Money. If it's about a financial crisis, don't talk about it. Many kids don't understand the scale of things and many have real fears about poverty and homelessness. Discussions about overspending on clothes or not writing receipts in the checkbook are usually fine.
  • Sex.
What are some of the Don'ts of arguing in front of the kids?
  • When you start to yell or lose your temper.
  • When it's about blaming instead about coming to a solution.
  • When it's disrespectful.
  • When it's stressing the kids out.
What are some of the Do's of arguing in front of the kids?
  • Stay calm.
  • Use "I" statements: "I feel like x when you..."
  • Listen and rephrase
  • Take a cool-off moment if you need to.
  • Try to see conflict from your spouse's perspective.
  • Work together towards a compromise.
  • Make up.
  • Kids should see all this over the arc of an argument, from beginning to end.
Finally, if your child's school uses some form of conflict resolution program, become acquainted with it and then, after the argument, engage them about how well you did according to that program.

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