Why it’s harmful for parents to fight in front of kids

Anyone who has grown up with their parents constantly fighting knows how much pain and emotional distress their verbal spats can cause.

Why it's harmful for parents to fight in front of kids
 Arguments between parents can be more damaging to a child’s mental health than separation or divorce.

Did you know that, according to studies, parental squabbles can be more detrimental to a child’s mental health than separation or divorce?

A study conducted by the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and the Early Intervention Foundation discovered that children’s exposure to parental conflict could jeopardise their long-term mental health and life chances. Stress in childhood has also been linked to adult diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, low immunity, and asthma.

“Children who witness quarrels on a regular basis can suffer severe emotional damage as a result of parental discord. The more severe and serious the nature of the arguments, the more serious the emotional turmoil within the child,” says Dr Ripan Sippy, a clinical and child psychologist.

“Children who witness frequent conflicts between their parents develop behavioural, emotional, and adjustment problems, and they frequently express their repressed feelings of fear, anger, and sadness by bullying others, being aggressive and stubborn, disobedient, fearful or timid.”

Dr Nisha Khanna, a relationship and marriage counsellor, adds that it’s natural for the child to become biased when one parent shares their emotional problems or grievances against the other partner with the child. A child may also develop resentment toward the other parent and withdraw from the family in order to avoid domestic conflicts.

How to stop fighting in front of your children

  • If you frequently fight in front of your children, you may need to change your mindset. If you can’t keep the tone respectful and loving, try to prioritise your children’s health over the need to express yourself. 
  • While it may be difficult and unrealistic to avoid fighting in front of children, avoid fighting about strictly adult topics that children cannot comprehend in their presence, such as sex and finances.
  • Fighting about the kids in front of them is also a no-no, so save these discussions for when they are not present. Call a “time out” and schedule a private discussion instead. If you prefer, mark time-out with a nonverbal signal, such as a raised hand or a tug on your right earlobe.
  • If possible, go to a separate room and write down your thoughts and feelings on paper or on your phone, then commit to talking about them with your other half within 24 hours.
  • Avoid pretending that things are still fine when they clearly are not. Kids can easily detect insincerity and discrepancy, which can lead to confusion.

When to seek professional help

Every couple has disagreements that, when resolved peacefully, are beneficial. However, if these squabbles escalate into large fights, they can be harmful to children. If frequent conflicts with a partner are creating a toxic environment at home, couples should not hesitate to seek counselling.

Rather than ignoring the issues, it is usually preferable to seek professional help in the early stages of a marriage or relationship or when conflicts arise.