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What your children learn from your arguments

Tags: arguments, conflict, children, parenting together

Arguments happen all the time – even in the happiest, healthiest relationships, the wisest people can misunderstand each other and the calmest people can lose their cool. But, while you can’t prevent arguments with you partner entirely, you can learn to make them more positive, and limit the effect they have on your children.

A well-conducted argument can even become an important part of how you strengthen your relationship [1] [2] and may even help your children learn valuable life skills [3].

What children learn from arguments

Your children are constantly picking up subtle signals from you about how to form and maintain relationships of their own. They will probably be aware of arguments in the house, even if they don’t witness them directly. You can turn this into a positive experience by making sure you argue constructively, which means staying calm and looking for compromises [3].

Being exposed to intense or drawn-out arguments can be more damaging for children than you might expect. As well as teaching them unhelpful ways of arguing, living in a tense environment can have a negative effect on children’s mental and physical health, affecting almost every area of their lives [4].

Negative arguments can affect children from a very young age, right through to adolescence, so it always matters how you and your partner deal with your disagreements [4].

Learning to argue

Accept that arguments are going to happen, and look at how you behave when they do. Think about how you could approach difficult topics with an open mind, and how you might steer a tricky conversation towards a compromise, rather than trying to win or get your own way.

It can be helpful to know the difference between destructive and constructive arguments. Destructive arguments might include one or more of the following:

  • Threats and shouting.
  • Aggression.
  • Giving the silent treatment.
  • Criticism and contempt.
  • References to breaking up.
  • Refusing to engage in the argument [3].

Any argument about, or in front of, the children could also be considered destructive [3]. While it’s important to watch out for these warning signs, the occasional negative argument needn’t be the end of the world. It’s when you find yourselves having repeated or frequent destructive arguments that you need to make sure you are working on changing things [3].

If you want your arguments to be more constructive, try and do the following:

  • Stay calm.
  • Listen properly.
  • Seek to understand your partner’s point of view.
  • Look for ways to resolve the argument.
  • Be willing to make compromises [3].

Give your partner time to put their point of view across, and remember that it’s always OK to ask questions to understand better. Be respectful and, even if you can’t agree, try to respond in a way that shows you care. If you look for common ground, and remain open to discussing your differences calmly, you’ll be on the right path to finding a compromise before things get too heated [1].

After the argument, try to be warm and kind. When it’s all over, offer a genuine apology for anything hurtful that you might have said or done [3].

A final note on balance

The couples who are best equipped to resolve their differences effectively are those with an equal share of power. When you have a balanced relationship, it’s easier to appreciate each other’s differences and similarities, which can make you more confident about opening up and sharing information and feelings. Improving your communication is a huge part of how you become closer as a couple [1].

 

References

[1] Lewis, J. M. (2000). Repairing the Bond in Important Relationships: A Dynamic for Personality Maturation. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157(9), 1375–1378. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.157.9.1375

[2] Morton, M. (2016). We Can Work it Out: The Importance of Rupture and Repair Processes in Infancy and Adult Life for Flourishing. Health Care Analysis : HCA; New York, 24(2), 119–132.

[3] Reynolds, J, Houlston, C, Coleman, L and Harold, G (2014). Parental Conflict: outcomes and interventions for children and families. Bristol: Policy Press.

[4] Harold, G. Acquah, D, Sellers, R and Chowdry, H (2014). What works to enhance inter-parental relationships and improve outcomes for children? London: Department for Work and Pensions.

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