Arguments in front of children, no matter how tame the adults think they are, can have lasting effects on the young ones’ psyches. If the fighting escalates to where parents are shouting at one another, name calling or slamming things, the long-term implications can be disastrous for children at almost any age. Kids can pick up tone, attitude and non-verbal clues from their parents, so a tense household will immediately trickle down to all members of the family.
Children can internalize marital problems, burying the parental fighting deep inside, so that it looks as if the shouting has no effect. When they’re asleep and have no control over their subconscious minds, their fears can come out in the form of nightmares or night terrors. If your children are frequently waking up, crawling into bed with you or forcing you to check every corner for monsters, ensure your behavior isn’t affecting them in some way. Some children simply have wild imaginations, and their dreams have nothing to do with their family life, but many times stress can manifest in nighttime illusions.
Fear of Trusting
Children growing up in homes where fighting is prevalent often have trouble trusting other people and making friends. They feel as if they are walking on eggshells, that any misstep could prove to undo the friendship or confidence of an adult or another child. They’re hesitant to put themselves out there because they don’t want to be disappointed or hurt. They fear being yelled at, even if the fighting has been strictly between the parents and neither party has ever yelled at them. They have trouble adapting to close-knit communities, preferring to rely on themselves.
Regardless of how involved or uninvolved the children are in the fighting, they may come to feel a sense of responsibility for it, blaming themselves for their parents’ unhappiness. As these feelings grow, the children can come to feel worthless, or like they are only causing trouble within the family, particularly if the adults have ever mentioned staying together for the kids, a phrase that places the onus directly on the young ones. They may withdraw from their friends, become loners, and place the weight of the world on their shoulders. Children feel responsible for many things beyond their control. Try not to have your spousal trouble be one of them.
As parental arguments strip children of confidence in themselves to create a happy home, they can see their grades suffer, their friendships taper off, and may even resort to distracting themselves with endless television, computer time, drugs or alcohol. This acting out is a cry for help mostly. They’re looking for attention, for the adults in their lives to prove to them that they are loved despite other problems. They want to be guided and helped in their lives, to be heard. Oftentimes, when adults are shouting at each other, they miss the nuances of unhappy children in the midst.
Not all effects of arguing in front of children have to be negative. Parents who take an active approach to solving differences of opinion in a healthy way teach their children to stand up for themselves using coherent, well-thought-out opinions and thoughts. They teach their children the value of compromise, and show sharing and love in action. When parental confrontations arise, instead of shouting or getting into any sort of altercation, talk it out with your partner and come to a civilized agreement. After the fight is over, explain to your children how you compromised. Include that sometimes feelings can get hurt and sometimes even adults say things they don’t mean, but what’s important is that you apologize for any wrongdoing and move on.