The Effects of Arguing in Front of Children

Written by genevieve van wyden
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The Effects of Arguing in Front of Children
How you argue is more important than the fact that you argue. (Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Parents are going to argue. It's inevitable. If you worry that your arguments are going to have a bad emotional effect on your children, understand that the way you handle those disagreements has more of an impact than the actual arguments. While nobody likes hearing raised voices, if those voices are raised as you are discussing a situation in a healthy way, your children will learn how to handle conflict in a productive way.

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Respectful Negotiation

Not every marital argument hurts children. You and your spouse aren't always going to be in agreement with each other. That is an unrealistic expectation. Your children can benefit from witnessing healthy, respectful disagreements between you and your spouse -- these are "spirited discussions" in which you treat each other respectfully and actively work to solve the issue at hand.

Verbal/Physical Aggression

You and your partner may not fight, argue or disagree very often, but if those occasions are marked with physical or verbal aggression, your children can be hurt emotionally. Regardless of who becomes aggressive -- the husband or the wife -- if your children see this, they learn that it is acceptable behaviour to be verbally and/or physically aggressive against others. Not only does this hurt their emotional health, it can lead to future involvement with the legal system if they don't learn better ways of handling disagreements.

Very young children absorb the impact of parental conflict, especially when violence is involved. These children can feel the impact for several years after the incident, according to Dr. Gordon Harold of Cardiff University In Wales.


While respectful disagreement and negotiation are healthy and help children learn to handle conflict, bullying is not a healthy way of handling conflict in a relationship. When children witness one parent bullying the other, they learn how to bully others -- and, when they become teenagers, they can use the bullying actions against you.

Silent Treatment

Even when one parent handles relationship conflict by giving the other parent the "silent treatment," the children can be negatively affected. Instead of facing the disagreement openly and treating the partner with respect, the partner giving the silent treatment teaches the children that using silence to block communication is good. Instead of learning how to face disagreements respectfully and openly, these children learn to manipulate others with silent treatments of their own.

Effects of Fighting

If arguments, conflict and disagreement are not handled in a healthy way, children are frightened. As they grow older, this fright changes to disgust. If their parents never learn to handle conflict in a healthy way, the children may eventually develop relationship issues of their own as they become adults.

While divorce can be painful and have an effect on children, staying married for the sake of the children only backfires. Chronic, unhealthy disagreements between parents can eventually lead to the children developing symptoms of depression, anxiety, hostility and aggression. Some children react by withdrawing.

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