Earlier in the year, my husband and I were arguing at the family dinner table. It wasn’t over anything particularly big, it wasn’t heated and there were no insults or raised voices – we were simply discussing the topic at hand and exchanging our different points of view. Part-way through, I glanced at my son’s face and noticed that he was looking rather alarmed. I asked him what was wrong and he said he was worried that my husband and I didn’t like each other anymore because we were arguing. We assured him that we love each other very much and explained that it’s okay for people not to agree with each other all the time & good to be honest about how we feel, to talk things through.
This made me think that the old adage that parents should never argue in front of their children is, perhaps, not quite right. If we never argue in front of them, they won’t learn how to argue well. Without the skills to argue effectively and fairly, they’re more likely to become people who either avoid conflict altogether, leaving unresolved issues to fester, or who, like bulls in a china shop, end up hurting themselves and others when disagreements arise. It seems to me that children run the risk of losing either their voice or their relationships if they don’t know how to argue kindly and respectfully.
I don’t think it’s as much a case of we shouldn’t argue in front of the children as we need to make sure we argue well in front of them. An argument doesn’t have to be a fight. It doesn’t have to be shouting, stamping and insults. This list below shows both what a good argument looks like and what our children can learn from it –
12 THINGS CHILDREN CAN LEARN FROM A GOOD ARGUMENT
- That people see things differently and some degree of arguing is inevitable, normal and okay.
- How to manage their own emotions in order to communicate well with another.
- How to really listen to and acknowledge another person’s point of view.
- How to truly care about the other person’s point of view and ask questions to understand it better.
- That their own point of view matters and how to express it with respect.
- How to explain their point of view clearly and give reasons for their position.
- How to express disagreement with the other respectfully, without insulting them.
- How to tolerate someone disagreeing with them or showing emotions such as anger and frustration without taking it personally.
- How to reach a solution – eg. compromise, negotiate, back down or “win” graciously.
- How to let go rather than carrying a grudge about an unsolved issue or something that doesn’t go their way.
- How to apologise sincerely.
- How to forgive honestly.
WHEN NOT TO ARGUE IN FRONT OF THE KIDS
Of course, if we’re going to argue in front of our children, we need to know that we can handle ourselves and be a good model of the things above. If we’re feeling triggered and we’re really not sure that we can keep our cool, then, for me, that particular issue needs to be one dealt with in private. To be the positive example to our kids that we want to be requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness and self-control on our part.
To make it clear, I am not suggesting we fight in front of our children. I am also not suggesting that we argue about our kids, issues of an adult nature, or big decisions that may make our children feel insecure (such as whether to move house or not) in front of them.
We humans thrive in honest, caring relationships in which we can express what is within and feel heard by another. In a good argument, we validate one another, even if our positions on the topic differ. When we argue well in front of our children, they hear the language, see the attitudes, and absorb the subtleties of respectful arguing. We give them a model of how to remain connected to another through disagreement.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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