Is it okay to argue in front of your children?

Family life

Cardiff Daddy and I had an argument this morning. It wasn’t over anything serious, just something stupid that quickly escalated. We both lost our tempers and shouted a little louder than we probably should have, both of us adamant we were right. Nothing unusual in a relationship – but our children were nearby when all this was happening. I’ve been feeling guilty and upset about it all day and asking myself whether it is ever okay to argue in front of your children.

It’s not the first time we’ve rowed in front of them. Don’t get me wrong, it only happens occasionally. We’re not talking about an unhealthy or abusive relationship here. But like almost all couples I know, we have tiffs, we bicker and we row from time to time. And sometimes it happens in front of our three children.

I feel so disappointed in myself afterwards for failing to control my temper and for failing to practice what I preach to my children about always trying to speak in our best voices and not shouting at people. I worry whether I’m causing them distress or upset. I worry whether I’m damaging my precious children or letting them down.


But then part of me thinks maybe it’s not all bad for children to see their parents arguing. I want my children to grow up with a realistic view of life. I don’t want them believing that relationships are always rosy and then not knowing how to cope when they realise there can be tough times. I don’t want them to feel they’re not allowed to express an opinion, or disagree with someone else. I want them to see that you can argue with someone, but still love them with all your heart. I want them to see their parents saying sorry. I want them to see their parents forgiving. I want them to know we are all human and do things we regret. I want them to learn to see another person’s point of view and to recognise that maybe you’re in the wrong and the other person is right. I want them to know it’s possible to work together to resolve a conflict and to move on from it.

But I still feel bad about them seeing me shout and argue.

I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where Chandler and Monica have their first argument and he presumes it signifies the end of their relationship. Monica tells him it’s just a fight, you move on. She realises his inability to make up after a row is why he’s never had a long-term girlfriend. “Welcome to an adult relationship,” she tells him.

My close mummy friends tell me I shouldn’t feel too guilty. “Arguments in front of children are not necessarily bad,” one of them tells me. “What makes them healthy is firstly that we acknowledge that disagreements do happen. Trying to pretend that they don’t isn’t healthy. The important bit is showing how we say sorry. We always say that not showing feelings is not healthy as it encourages children to internalise feelings leading to negative coping strategies.”

“I think they need to see that side of life,” another friend says. “If our daughter has ever looked upset about it we would tell her it’s just Mummy and Daddy disagreeing on something, but it’s okay and that we still love each other.”

“I don’t want the kids to be frightened of shouting,” says one friend, “but also I don’t want them to think it’s normal. It’s a balance, I think. I have a glare, where my husband usually knows he’s gone too far.

“Either that or my son will tell him Mummy is the boss!”

And that’s the thing about children. There is nothing like a humorous quip from them to stop you in your tracks.

Cardiff Daddy left the room after our row. “Daddy,” Little Miss E and Little Man O said to him sternly, “Your paddy is NOT acceptable.”

And then a knock on my door and the two of them chorusing in unison. “Mummy, your paddy is NOT acceptable.”

It made us both see the ridiculousness of our row and we hugged and made up.

There’s nothing like being put in your place by a five-year-old and a three-year-old. How can you argue with that?

What do you think? Is it ever acceptable to argue in front of children? I’d really love to know what you think either in the comments below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or on by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy

Super Busy Mum

24 Comments to Is it okay to argue in front of your children?

  1. I think that it doesn’t do too much harm for your kids to see you argue occasionally. How else are they going to learn conflict resolution skills of their own in school and beyond? The most important aspect is the resolution of the argument and how it’s handled. Mat and I bicker rather than fight but the kids know that if we do it’s because we’re being daft, or we’re tired and we explain that we’re just human and everybody behaves like this sometimes.

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Yes, I agree about the learning about how to handle conflict and explaining even adults get it wrong some times. It’s still horrible when it happens though x

  2. I think you’re exactly right. I try not to argue in front of my daughter, as I see how much it upsets and worries her even when I know it’s minor – but I think it’s the way you do it that’s important. Showing respect (even when the other person is clearly wrong!), expressing an opinion and being able to make up and say sorry – if you’re going to have the argument in front of kids, you need to show it’s been resolved as well. Children pick up on seething resentment too, so trying to bury everything under the carpet wouldn’t be any healthier. But there’s nothing like a two-year-old telling you you’re ‘very silly’ in stern tones to put matters in perspective!

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Great advice, sounds like you have struck a really good balance. I definitely agree about showing them it has been resolved. That’s so important. x

  3. I agree, too much would be unsettling, but to never argue would be unhealthy, and they need to know that you can still be friends after an argument! I have 2 stepsons who used to (apparently) be upset if their dad and I argued. They thought arguing meant divorce. I remember then thinking back then that if I had my own children (I now have 2) I would make sure that they did witness the odd tiff, to realise that arguing does not in fact lead to divorce!! Another interesting read by the way 🙂

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Oh, that must have been really tough your step-children to be so worried about the arguing. I think it’s important for children to see you can resolve things and still love each other, despite disagreeing on things.

  4. We always try not to argue in front of the kids. Our eldest is 4 and if we do argue he tells us to shut up and stop arguing. After I feel really bad for him. So we now try and either wait till later or it just passes and we forget about it.

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      That’s so good of you to try to leave it until later. I’m not so good at that. x

  5. I think it’s best to try to avoid it, but it’s going to happen and I think you’re right – seeing your parents argue occasionally gives children a realistic view of adult relationships, particularly when they understand that clearing the air can have a big upside going forwards.

    Like you, I do feel horribly guilty when it happens, though. I’m not a naturally confrontational person, so arguing is not something that comes naturally to me. And yet there’s a piece of me that wants my children to be willing to stand up for themselves and argue their corner when they believe they are justified. I don’t want them to grow up avoiding conflict simply to keep the peace.

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Such a mix of emotions around this one. I agree with you entirely. I want my children to grow up with a realistic look at the world, but I still feel so bad when it happens.

  6. Difficult one; I don’t feel right arguming in front of my toddler even when he was a baby. On the few ocassions that I’ve heated discussions within his sight / hearing, I make myself feel better by thinking that he doesn’t HOPEFULLY understand. At the same time, I agree with the thinking that children shoul dhave a realistic view of life. I suppose it’s about how the argument happens; teaching them that maybe we don’t have to raise our voices to make a point and we can agree to disagree, and still work together. We can teach them about controlling our temper etc through disagreements between adults. I wish I could say I’ve mastered how to this well and right.

    Thanks for sharing; a thoughtful post! 🙂

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is definitely a difficult thing. I think it comes down to making sure they see the argument being resolved – and also that it doesn’t happen too often. It has certainly given me a lot to think about,

  7. Arguing every now and then is normal kids don’t need to be protected from it, as long as it isn’t every day and the language isn’t abusive on a regular basis. I think there are huge differences between children growing up understand conflict resolution and kids thinking verbal abuse and physical abuse is normal. The fact you feel bad shows you are a good mum but you shouldn’t feel bad, I love their response to it, very emotionally mature to you guys being childish lol x x

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Ha, yes, their responses certainly put us in our places. I agree with what you are saying – I want them to have a real view of the world. but I still feel terrible when it happens.

  8. What Mummy Did Next

    I always feel terribly guilty. Little P tries desperately hard to change the subject or sing really loudly so it obviously makes her uncomfortable. It is, however, part of life. I don’t ever remember my parents arguing and then one day they separated out of the blue (as far as I was concerned!) I don’t think either way is an indicator of a happy/unhappy relationship. I tend to explain what’s happened to Little P, just like I do if I tell her off.

  9. I can totally relate. I’ve had moments like that too but, like you, always remind myself that it’s important for children to see the reality of a relationship. We don’t argue often, but they understand that we sometimes disagree and we work it out between us. They still hate us shouting though and will usually tell one or both of us to “sssh” 🙂

  10. I think the occasional argument is ok but not ideal – we try not to argue in front of our little one but sometimes it really can’t be helped and then I feel the exact same way as you. I grew up in a household where my parents argued all the time, which was awful, and so I really am not keen on arguing in front of my little one as that’s pretty much all I remember! #MBPW

  11. The timing of me finding this could not be better. We had not so much an argument but a silly quibble the other day. I apologised to my kids and my 11yo said “it’s alright, I’m used to it”. I could have died. But I take comfort in the fact that she is also used to seeing her mum and dad kiss, hug and have a laugh. As you so beautifully point out they need to know what marriage actually involves and that a row doesn’t undo years of love and bonding. Came through to you via YellowBelly who I found through the #fridayfrolics linky!

  12. Oh I love your children’ reaction to the argument, how sweet. It is an interesting one, I think that the occasion argument is fine. Like you said, life isn’t always perfect and you can’t always get on with everyone, even the people you love. I think it is only a problem if it is constant or really aggressive. #MBPW

  13. Oh that is so funny! I think it’s good to teach them to stick up for themselves – in the politest way possible – and as long as you’re not abusive and it doesn’t happen all the time then that’s maybe what you’re doing? Thanks for linking up to #MBPW 🙂

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      It’s a difficult one, I feel. I guess as you say, as long as it is not all the time and not abusive, then hopefully it will teach them about conflict resolution etc.

  14. I think most of us can relate to this post! We all have arguments and sometimes it just isn’t possible to keep them hidden from the kids! We are only human, parents yes, but human none the less. Thanks for linking up to the #MMWBH 🙂

    • Cardiff Mummy Says

      Yep, none of us are perfect. I guess it’s making sure you handle it properly that makes a difference.

  15. Hahahahah your paddy is not acceptable! I love that you guys use that word too! We have had Gus tell us to stop shouting before now and it’s a total guilt-fest then. But also I think it’s good to show that it’s OK to argue as long as you show that you both make it up in front of the kids too so they don’t feel unsettled by it. But yeah, same as you, it’s not that often. If it was a daily occurrence then it might be a different story.

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