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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is it ok for parents to argue in front of their children?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1


    I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    There is extensive research to suggest that arguing in front of your kids is only OK if it is infrequent, not too intense, and where the issue is resolved.
    If you find it hard to manage expressing stong negative emotions in a way that is respectful of your partner (even if it is not violent), and where fighting is prolonged and unresolved, children's development and wellbeing can be negatively affected. 
    The good news is, if you handle conflict in a skillful manner, where you are able to continue to think about your partner's point of view and what is happening for them emotionally as well as what is going on for you, you will teach your kids some great lessons in how to resolve conflict and have healthy relationships themselves.

  • Grant McKell


    Grant McKell is a counselling psychologist working in Sydney's inner west with over ten years' experience. He founded HeadsUp Psychology in August, 2011. Having worked in … View Profile

    I agree with what Vivienne has said. Arguing of itself is not a problem in front of kids. What is damaging is kids witnessing the adults in their lives verbally abusing each other. Kids are great for making us adults grow up even more. We want to be the best human beings for them. So if an argument occurs, here are some tips:

    1). Argue the issue not the person- avoid name calling and stay on task
    2). Work to define what the issue is and articulate it before trying to solve it. This will help to prevent an argument going in circles. (eg.“So it seems that we disagree about how dinner time is being organised”)
    3). Actively listen to the other person to show you understand what they are trying to say. (eg. “so you feel tired after work, that's why you seldom cook dinner”)
    4). Offer up solutions.

    If the argument is going off the rails, call a time out and say that you have to think and that you'll continue it on later. Your child will learn that this is how to conduct themselves when conflicts arise; your modelling becomes their behaviour. So therefore, conduct yourself in an argument in front of your child in a manner that you would like your child to emulate when they have arguments with friends or siblings. Because that is exactly what they will do.

    There are some topics of arguments that are better to not have in front of kids. Anything of an adult nature (eg. sex life, infidelity) or that is in any way developmentally inapproriate should be for adult ears only.

    Also, anything which is about the child. A common example of this is differences of opinion about discipline. Topics which are about the child can have some unintended consequences such as the child blaming themselves for the argument. Also, children who learn that their parents are not on the same page with regards to discipline (or other matters about them) can learn to exploit those differences of opinion to their advantage as the grow, much to the distress of their parents! The adults in a child's life need to present a united front to children and this includes parents and teachers if the kids are at school. Any differences of opinion in these areas should be discussed and resolved away from the child.

    I hope this adds to the excellent advice given by Vivienne. Good luck with it all.

  • 2


    Caroline Issa


    I am a fully registered Psychologist with over seven years of experience practicing Psychology. I first came into studying Psychology after completing a fashion design … View Profile

    Definitely not, children absorb a lot of information both negative and positive. Parents should be aware of what they say and do in front of their children as they easily mimic. If parents need to discuss something they should set a aside some time when their children are not around so they can talk about their differences

  • Grant McKell


    Grant McKell is a counselling psychologist working in Sydney's inner west with over ten years' experience. He founded HeadsUp Psychology in August, 2011. Having worked in … View Profile

    I guess it all comes down to defining what is meant by “arguing”. If we mean a conflict that is fuelled with anger, apparent through raised voices and put-downs, then the answer is a definite “no”. Do not ever do this in front of children.
    If, however, by argument, we mean setting out the case for a particular viewpoint and listening respectfully to a counter argument proposed, then that is ok and indeed, beneficial for children to witness, as they will mimic this behaviour with their friends and at school. However, if the topic of the debate is the children themselves, then they should never be a witness to it.
    There is a difference between kids witnessing their parents argue the case for and against the merits of a film in a reasonable way as opposed to witnessing their parents in conflict over one parent drinking too much at a family get together, by way of example.
    The key is to think carefully about what topics are argued about in front of the children. In general, if it is an emotive topic and one where either party is likely to feel defensive or angry, keep it out of the kids' experience. If it is a topic where emotions are unlikely to run high and where good conflict resolution behaviour can be modelled, an argument can be a great learning opportunity for kids.
    My view is that kids will encounter conflict inevitably themselves. They need to learn how to effectively and appropriately navigate such conflicts from somewhere and parental modelling can play a very important role in this.

  • 1


    Maria Nguyen

    HealthShare Member

    If you can argue in a civilized way, it is nothing wrong with doing it in front of your kids. But if you argue by calling each other names and being verbally abusive or even physically abusive, you can create a serious psychological trauma to your kids. If your kids witness such fighting often, they will end up growing up emotionally and psycologically unstable and might become a victim of abuse or an abuser himself or herself.

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  • 4


    My name is Catherine and I completed my counselling studies at the Australian Catholic University. As a Counsellor, I have worked in Australia, England, Rwanda, … View Profile

    This is a really good question, so, thank-you for asking. I think that it is inevitable that parents may find themselves arguing in front of their children from time to time; however, depending on how contained the argument is, that is another issue. Containment is really important when expressing any kind of disagreement, misunderstanding, and conflict in front of children. What needs to be considered is the appropriateness of the issue being argued. Given that children can be easily influenced and learn by watching what others do, it might be helpful for parents to consider creating boundaries, as to what is appropriate to discuss in front of their children, and what needs to be discussed in private.

    If parents are to argue in front of the children unexpectedly, if the argument is constructive and calmly discussed, it may be a good learning observation for the children. However, if it is an argument that cannot be discussed calmly, rationally, and with containment, then perhaps this argument is better left for when the children are not around.  Parents are naturally one of their children’s role model/s in terms of learnt behaviours, so, children will look to learn from their parents; positive and negative behaviours.

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