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I heard a rather prissy woman the other day discussing with her friend that she never argued in front of her children because of the emotional damage it can do, but looking back on your childhood, can you remember a time when your parents argued?
Most people will answer ‘yes’ to that question. Now consider how the argument affected you personally. Does any particular argument stick in your mind and if so, why? Was it the severity of it, the topic or the fact that they argued at all? How did it make you feel as a child and did it affect your relationship with your parents afterwards?
The idea that rowing can affect children has been debated for years and many studies have been done to identify the real facts.
Obviously there are extreme examples that would affect any child, but generally a row or disagreement is a normal part of an adult relationship and a part of life that most children around the world will experience.
I’ve had many blazing rows with my wife over the years, many of which my family and I now look back on and laugh about, principally because when your rowing you’re not generally thinking will consequently say ridiculous things.
Rows can clear the air or bring things to a head so that we can all move on and since there are so many factors involved in family spats, most of the time, a row is usually just letting off some steam.
Most of the studies into the effects of rowing on children determine that it isn’t the row that is actually that important, it is what happens afterwards however that is. The making up part of a row is how children learn about reconciliation and the skills of communication required in doing so.
The silent treatment that can invariably follow a row is actually more damaging than the row itself since it creates an uncomfortable atmosphere in which a developing child’s sense of comfort is challenged.
Parents shouldn’t apologise for rowing in front of their children however. A study at York University in England found that protecting children by taking the row away from them actually increased their anxiety because the circumstances behind the row became secret.
Pretending that an argument hasn’t taken place is generally counterproductive because it is confusing. Showing false emotions looks strained and children aren’t stupid, they know when something is wrong.
So what can we do when mum and dad have a ‘difference of opinion’?
The key is to demonstrating examples of effective conflict resolution. This isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re still brooding, but since most children will at some point in their life have a squabble with siblings or friends it is worth demonstrating that whilst an argument isn’t particularly pleasant to look at, it does bring things to a head and as such is actually the starting point from which things can get resolved.
Apologising is easy to do and many children see it as a way of getting out of trouble or resolving a situation quickly.
Putting things right, however, is much more difficult, and so if parents really want their children to learn earnestly from them, they need to reduce the fall out of rows by setting good examples so children see their parents discussing their issues and looking for mutual resolutions, that way they will learn that whilst rows sometimes happen, they are fleeting and through effective communication actually make relationships stronger.