Earlier this week, I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline and I saw a post from Mama Syder, one of my favourite bloggers, who’d seen a debate on telly about the potential damage done to kids when they see their parents argue. According to the expert findings “Destructive’ conflict – including sulking, walking away or slamming doors – puts youngsters at greater risk of a range of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, said relationship charity OnePlusOne”.
Study co-author Dr Catherine Houlston said: ‘We know conflict is a normal and necessary part of family life. It’s not whether you argue but how you argue that matters most to kids. Research suggests that, over time, the impact of being exposed to arguing between their parents can put children’s physical health at risk.”
The thing I found most interesting, though, was Mama Syder’s take on the findings. She said:
“I think kids need to see arguing so they don’t grow up with unrealistic ideas about love. I know watching my parents row & divorce taught me that marriage wont be a fairytale and that forgiveness is an essential ingredient to loving & being loved in a long term relationship.”
Now, if you don’t know anything about Mama S, I’ll give you a little rundown. She’s been married to her Husband for 25 years, has three children, one grandchild and lives a gorgeous life on the Essex coast. When you read her posts, tweets and Facebook statuses, you know that although life hasn’t always been straight-forward for her, she and Mr. S are as much in love today as they were 25 years ago and it makes me wonder if her forgiveness and realism are what have seen her manage what a staggering 42% of people can’t (official divorce statistics from 2012)
I asked two other wise and wonderous bloggers what they thought, two more women whom I admire and look up to, Annie from Mammasaurus and Tanya from Mummy Barrow, and here are their thoughts:
Annie: “I think hearing people argue is an important part of growing up, friends, parents, randoms – so long as there’s discussion afterwards about the arguement. Children need to know that it’s cool to express when they are angry with something or someone but that there are different ways they can do it – some acceptable and some not. And by seeing all sorts of arguements it helps them form their own opinions, and gives them a sort of moral compass.”
If arguments are constructive and calm (not screaming, hurtful, or aggressive) then it is good for children to see that adults disagree on things and can either agree to disagree, or opinions changed. I dont think it is healthy for children to not see arguments resolved if they hear the argument start and not end or do I think it is healthy for a child to NEVER hear an argument. If they sense an atmosphere and parents not talking as a result of an argument they never witnessed, how is that healthy? Children need to learn how to argue. Its not all screaming cat fights like on Eastenders, and that is not healthy. Same with funerals, I think children need to go to those too. They need to understand how processes work, there is an argument, it happens, we move on. And hearing arguments whilst upstairs is not healthy either.
I agree in part with everything that the ladies have said. While it’s not ideal for kids to see heated arguments or escalation, I do think it’s reasonable for them to see that life isn’t always sunshine and roses and that human beings do experience conflict. I also think that T’s point about resolution is really important too. As someone who grew up with a lot of adults who’d rather use passive aggression and guess work to communicate with each other, I never really saw anyone backing down or being the bigger person, just a series of snarky comments and then everything being swept under the rug until the next argument.
Husband and I do our best not to argue in front of Sausage, although there have been times when we have, but we always go to great pains to explain to her that Mummy and Daddy love each other very much and that disagreeing with each other is a totally normal part of life. We’ve also been known to conduct disagreements via WhatApp or Hangouts so that things don’t get too heated! She also sees, FAR more frequently, Husband and I being affectionate towards each other, having happy debates, mucking around and mickey taking and ribbing each other gently. Just yesterday she said to us “I love it when you two laugh together”, which really warmed our hearts!
I think the escalation factor is the most important one – as long as kids see you managing conflict in a calm, measured way, that’s okay. Providing they don’t hear name calling, see aggressive behaviour such as raised voices, door slamming and plate breaking, it’s perfectly possible for them to witness an adult argument without it causing trauma to them and I genuinely believe that they can learn effective conflict resolution by being set a good example by their parents.
So, what’s your take on all of this? Do you avoid conflict of all sorts? Have your kids seen you arguing? Do you think it’s potentially damaging or a fact of life that they need to learn? Let me know!