Is fighting in front of the kids acceptable, and is there an appropriate way to do it?

It was a pretty ordinary drive home when my husband and I broke out into an argument.

Stuck in a car with nowhere to go, we yelled it out for a good 15 minutes before I did my usual winning tactic of giving him the silent treatment. Normally it works a treat; it frustrates the hell out of him, and my point is kinda, sorta, not really made, but at least the yelling stops while I gather my arsenal for round two.

But this time a little voice from the back of the car called out, “Have you stopped louding now?” It was of course our two-year-old Millie and in the heat of the moment we forgot little ears were listening. Waves of guilt washed over us at our lack of restraint; her cute interpretation stopped any further ‘louding’.

Later that night I shared our tale of fighting and ‘louding’ on Facebook, and interestingly a few friends commented that the odd argument in front of the kids is good for them. It shows them that you are human, that adults sometimes fight, but more importantly that conflict can be resolved.

I certainly remember my parents arguing, and boy, they had some screamers. Both Mum and Dad are very assertive, passionate people and while the arguments were monumental, they always made up. They made up GOOOOOD — I’m the eldest of five kids, need I say more?

Thirty-eight years later, nothing has changed. They still fight and make up, and I’ve only just realised while writing this that maybe their fighting was Dad’s way of saying, “Are you awake, love?!” Eww… But I digress. A lot.

Dr Justin Coulson from happyfamilies.com.au is not so sure that fighting in front of children is good for them.

“Research tells us that kids who witness conflict in their parents’ relationship can suffer from fear and anxiety. It can undermine their sense of security,” Dr Coulson says.

However, Dr Coulson understands that couples will and do fight in front of their children, and gives this advice for fair fighting when little eyes are watching.

“They need to see us resolve conflict in mature, sensible, understanding ways. In our anger we don’t see clearly, even though we think we do. It’s far better to say to one another, ‘Let’s take a breather, and come back when we can listen to one another’.”

A-ha! The silent treatment — I knew I was onto something. Dr Coulson says this approach models much better conflict resolution to our kids. It shows that we have conflict, but it also shows that we won’t let anger undermine our relationships and trust.

“Kids need to believe the world is a secure, predictable place,” he says. “Seeing us fighting brings that into question. But seeing us talk kindly and respectfully to one another — in spite of differences — builds trust and security.”

In a perfect world, Mummy and Daddy — or Mummy and Mummy and Daddy and Daddy — would never fight and live happily ever after, but we all know there’s no such thing as a conflict-free relationship, especially when you throw in the stress of raising children.

My tip: If you do happen to accidently ‘loud’ in front of your children, make up even ‘louder’.