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Arguing In Front Of The Kids – The Good and the Bad

I’m sure none of you amazing wonderful parents have ever argued in front of your kids, right?  Right??  Yes, I know, we are not perfect and we’ve all done it at some point.  Maybe some more than others, but it can be hard to avoid completely.  So do you know if what you are saying in front of the kids is good for them or not?  We’re going to pick apart the good and the bad about arguing in their presence. 

Difference Between Argument And Discussion

First, it may help to clarify the difference between an argument and a discussion.  I apologize — I have misled you a bit with the title of this post.  It is a bit misleading because it only mentions the argument part of this comparison.  A discussion can be calm or fairly passionate about a topic.

The main hallmark is the undertone of respect.  There is some evidence that both people are listening and responding to each other with some reciprocation.  An argument is much more about winning than anything else.  The people involved are likely to do whatever it takes until there is a clear winner or loser.  And if it appears unresolved, that negative vibe may continue for some time.

Arguing In Front Of Kids

Here’s the good and bad parts of doing any of this in front of your kids.  I will suggest that arguing in front of your kids is nearly always counterproductive in some way.  Since you are focused on winning the argument, you are likely to do things like yell and say strong things to make your position seem more superior.

This models poor listening skills, poor emotional management, and bad discretion about what is appropriate for kids to witness.  It will likely come back in your face at some point with your kids’ behaviors when they disagree with others.  Your kids will be more likely to focus on winning, yelling, not listening very well, and saying things they may not mean to have an advantage.

The only possible exception is when the topic is clearly a joke, both parents appear affectionate and act like they enjoy the humor.  I’m not here to trample a little good-natured humorous teasing between family members.  I’m here to point out that truly arguing in front of your kids is problematic.

Discussing In Front Of Your Kids

Having a discussion in front of your kids can be a very good thing, but only if it follows a few basic rules. First, be sure it is about a topic that is OK for little ears to hear.  In other words, not the time to discuss your interpersonal dirty laundry, your sex life, or maybe even money issues.  If you think your discussion is something of value for your kids to hear or is something very mundane, you are probably OK.  This is, of course, at your discretion.  Just be aware that there is a time and place for conversations, and not all topics are OK in front of your kids.

Also, make sure you practice good listening skills.  Be sure you give each other turns, clarify what you heard now and then, and keep the whole thing respectful in all ways.  If you think your discussion would pass that checklist, then you may have a valuable family moment in the making.  If it doesn’t fit or you feel things turning argumentative, then agree to take it up privately with each other later.

Modeling is so important — kids who grow up with a lot of arguing learn to deal with it in a variety of ways.  Some decide they hate arguing so they avoid anything controversial.  Others take up this style of communicating, making their relationships difficult and dramatic.  The sarcasm, biting words, and passive aggressive garbage that tends to go along with arguments can have lifelong effects in a home with growing children.  Be careful!

Your Experience With Arguing and Discussing At Home

Families and readers, let me know about your experiences with arguing or discussing in front of your kids.  Let’s help everyone learn more about arguing and discussing in front of kids.

Creative Commons License photo credit: R_x

Arguing In Front Of The Kids – The Good and the Bad

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2010). Arguing In Front Of The Kids – The Good and the Bad. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Mar 2010
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