Parenting Experts Think This Advice Is B.S. (and We Kinda Do Too)


Your spouse stumbles down the stairs at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning complaining about how tired he is. Meanwhile, you’ve been up for four hours already feeding and entertaining your offspring. “Excuse me?!?” you feel like screaming. But looking over at your kids greeting your partner with giant smiles and open arms, you decide to table his comment for later (or, you know, just simmer in resentment for the rest of the day). 

Maybe you witnessed your parents argue growing up and swore you’d never do that to your kids. Or maybe your parents never exchanged an unkind word to one another, behavior that you’d like to model for your own children. Or maybe you read somewhere that you and your spouse should present a united front in front of the kids which means keeping disagreements and grievances behind closed doors. Because everyone knows that it’s bad for kids to see parents fight, right? 

Actually, no. Parenting experts stress that not only is it good for kids to see their parents bicker over whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher, it’s actually important they do so. 

“It can actually be helpful to model good communication and the process of navigating disagreements for your children,” marriage and family therapist Marisa T. Cohen tells us. “If spouses demonstrate effective problem solving and validate one another's emotions and thoughts, children can actually learn the power of constructive communication.”

Neha Navsaria, child psychologist and consultant at Parent Lab, agrees: “Children need to be aware that conflict and disagreements are a part of life and relationships. If they don’t have exposure to the process, then as they become older, when conflict arises they can find it to be overwhelming or have difficulty knowing how to advocate for themselves.” Indeed, research shows that parents who can settle disputes and emerge with warm feelings toward each other instill better coping skills and emotional security in their children.

It’s also important for kids to see that parents too can get annoyed, frustrated and, yes, even angry with one another. “Kids need to see that parents are just like them; human beings with their own wants and feelings,” says Navsaria. 

Think of it this way—how can we expect our children to learn self-regulation and conflict management skills if they don’t see it being modeled by their caregivers?    

But here’s the rub: You want to show your kids how to effectively disagree and make up, not teach them bad habits. As such, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Fight fair. “There is a difference between a disagreement and an argument, in that an argument can include hostile tone or content, which can be problematic for children to observe,” Cohen explains, stressing that yelling or using a harsh tone is a no-no. 
  • Model good conflict resolution skills. When fighting with your spouse, use helpful tools like validating feelings, clear communication, boundary setting and compromise. (Think: “I’m actually feeling pretty tired myself since I got up early with the kids—could you please watch them while I go upstairs and rest for a bit? I’ll be back down to take J to soccer practice.”)
  • Remember that you don’t need to be transparent about every conflict. “Being open with your child is one thing, but consistently sharing these experiences with your child might shift the weight of these conflicts on to your child,” says Navsaria. (I.e., letting your kids see how you two navigate a disagreement about folding laundry is one thing; giving them a front row seat to your money or bedroom issues is quite another.) 

Most importantly, when fighting with your spouse, let your kids see how you two have resolved the issue. For smaller kids, this could be as simple as letting them see you give your partner a hug, whereas older kids may benefit from a conversation about what happened. Either way, you’ll be helping to raise more resilient and capable children—and that’s a win-win for everybody. 

4 Healthy Fights to Have in a Marriage (And 2 That Are Relationship-Destroying)

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...