Most parents have been there.
You’re in the heat of the moment, an argument broke out with your spouse, both of your voices raise, and you look over to see your little one standing in the corner of the room. She heard it all.
Arguments are bound to happen, even in the most healthy of marriages. But what do you do when you’re in the middle of one and realize your young son or daughter heard the whole thing?
Here are a few things to think about.
- Realize arguments are okay, and can even be healthy. This is a great opportunity to show your kids the value in healthy conflict resolution. There’s nothing wrong with having a reasonable debate. Your kids need to know that anger is a valid emotion, so don’t try and cover it up after the fact. Help them understand that mom and dad get angry sometimes, and that’s okay. But also help them understand that you still love each other and value each other’s opinions.
- Be honest. Along those same lines, be honest with the kids. Life isn’t always roses and boxes of chocolates when it comes to your relationship. Own the bad times, but make sure they know you are still working together and as a family. However, if arguments are a daily thing that your kids can’t get away from, then that’s a different story—and it’s a situation where marital counseling is probably necessary.
- Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel at their age if you walked into a room and heard your parents saying those things? Were there inappropriate words said, or was it just a heated tone? How could the subject of the argument affect them? Have they walked in on your arguments just a time or two, or is this a recurring situation? Knowing how they might feel will allow you to be more self-aware when a tense situation might be brewing. That’s when you can try and press pause on the conversation and wait until they are at school or in bed asleep.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Let’s be honest. Seeing your parents argue—especially in a really heated tone—is always awkward and emotional. Never shift your anger toward them for walking in or overhearing you. That only makes matters worse. Instead, acknowledge how they feel and be up front with them about the argument. That doesn’t mean you have to get into all the specifics, but you need to validate their feelings and explain the reality of being in a marriage. You might say, “We’re sorry you heard mom and dad talking that way, but sometimes we disagree, and that’s okay. We still love each other, and we love you.”
- Make sure they see you make up. Any situation like this needs closure. If they’ve seen you arguing, they need to see you smiling and communicating in a healthy way as well. It’s okay if this doesn’t happen in the heat of the situation. But when tempers have calmed and more reasonable thoughts prevail, make sure your kids know that mom and dad are happy again. What you do will always be more impactful than what you say.
It’s important to remember that continued arguments will have a long-term negative impact on your child. If you find these heated talks are more of a way of life instead of an occasional thing, then you should consider going to a counselor to work through the situation.
Always watch what you say around your kids, but also understand that arguments are going to happen and they eventually will overhear you and your spouse disagreeing. Own that reality while also knowing that how you respond after the fact can make all the difference in how your child views conflict.