The Impact of Parents Arguing in Front of Kids

By Lauren Hall
March 25, 2024

My husband and I had a little argument last week. It wasn’t a big deal, just one of those everyday disagreements. But you know what? Our four-year-old reacted in a surprising way.

He saw us arguing and got upset. So upset, in fact, that he pretended to punch my husband. When we asked him what was going on he said, “You two fighting makes me angry, and I want to fight. I choose Mom’s side. Attack Dad!” While I was slightly honored that he chose to defend me, it got me thinking about how our arguments affect our kids.

Experts have talked about this for a long time. They say that when parents argue in front of their kids, it can make the kids internalize the conflict.

A study done by the Journal of Family Psychology followed over 200 families for ten years. Guess what they found?

Kids who saw their parents argue a lot were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues later in life. And it didn’t matter if the arguments got resolved or not. What mattered was how often and how intensely the parents argued.

Arguing at home can even make it hard for kids to do well in school. There was another study in the Journal of Child Development that found kids who hear their parents argue a lot have trouble paying attention in school. The stress caused by conflict between parents can make it harder for children to focus, absorb information, and give their full effort.

Here’s another thing: kids learn from their parents.

If parents yell or call names when they argue, their kids are likely to do the same. That’s what this famous psychologist called Dr. John Gottman says. He calls it “the conflict blueprint.” Basically, kids copy what they see their parents doing.

But it’s not all bad news. Parents can do things to make it better. First off, they need to realize that their arguments affect their kids. So, it’s important to try to solve arguments without shouting or fighting. Sometimes, talking to a professional can help, like going to therapy or taking parenting or marriage classes.

Making home a safe and happy place can help kids feel more secure. Spending time together as a family, talking openly, and making sure kids know they’re loved can all help. And if you think your arguments have already hurt your kids, it’s okay to talk to them about it. When a child feels tension between parents, they’ll internalize their emotions and often blame themselves. This is normal for children and should encourage parents to reach out to them with curiosity and reassure them of the love and safety in the family. 

As parents, we are role models for our kids. So, it’s important to be kind and respectful, even when we disagree. By doing that, we can help our kids grow up happy and healthy.

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