Why You Should Never Fight In Front Of Your Kids

Fights are unavoidable but we can control where we duke it out and it’s definitely not in front of the kids.

When stress compounds and everything seems to be going wrong, it’s so much easier to blame someone else. Unfortunately, that someone else is usually our partner. We drag them into the dirt, angry with how things are. But they don’t come quietly either. Soon, it escalates and we forget that in the midst of winning, there is a casualty. That casualty or collateral damage is usually the kids — especially when they repeatedly witness firsthand their parents fighting.

We’re not mad at our kids!

Of course, we’re not. They didn’t do anything wrong. Yet, kids will believe they do. In their current developmental state, they can only understand what they can perceive through their five senses. Abstract reasoning comes much, much later which is why a lot of kids who see their parents fight often force themselves to grow up faster than they should to deal with the emotional aspects.

How do kids get dragged into their parents’ fights?

It’s so easy for parents to say that they don’t drag their kids into the fight. But subconsciously, some do so especially when there’s a Cold War happening in the house. Some behaviors that end up dragging the kids into fights include the following:

  • Using the kids as messengers – “Go tell your dad this”, “Ask your mom. What do I know?” — It may look like they’re avoiding a fight by not talking to each other. But what it looks like is that the kid is serving as a meat shield to protect the parent.
  • Responding with snappy comebacks – Wit is always welcomed with well-timed, well-intended, and classy humor. However, kids can sense barbs hidden in adults’ words. Especially in a culture that’s extremely reliant on gaslighting, they’re more empathetic than you think.
  • Ranting to them about the other parent – The most common reaction to a fight is trying to find allies to win. Sometimes, parents do this out of frustration. Others do it with malice, knowing that having the kids on their side will hurt their partner.
  • Extreme love-bombing – Love-bombing is a common tactic from parents with narcissistic tendencies to gain control. To make sure their narrative prevails, they’ll love-bomb one of the kids by spoiling them, giving them whatever they want, all in opposition to the other parent.

How does it affect kids?

Some kids who come from volatile households like these develop “people pleasing” tendencies. To escape and prevent the stress of dealing with a war zone, they often just give in to the other party and self-destruct. They take on the blame, saying that they should have been “strong enough to stop their parents from fighting”.

Others develop anxiety in the form of heightened emotional vigilance that appears like empathy. They develop the ability to notice even the slightest changes in physical responses to certain words and to anticipate reactions. The most common manifestation is how they seem to have a big vocabulary which may look like they’ve been inhaling books. When in reality, they learned via the reactions of people.

Parents should keep the kids out of the fight!

Parents often complain that it’s their kids or partners that try their temper. But sometimes, it can be another factor that is out of their control. Thus, they look for a concrete target so their mind knows they’ve claimed their revenge. But that concrete target should never be the kids. Nor should kids ever be made an arbiter or a judge on who should win the fight between their parents.

More about conflict management in the family:

Why Parenting A Teen Sometimes Feels Like A Fight For Control

How to Deal With Sibling Rivalry: What To Do When The Kids Keep Fighting

Am I Too Picky With Who My Teen is Friends With?

Shop for Modern Parenting's print issues through these platforms.
Download this month's Modern Parenting magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]