Shouting, arguing, door slamming, name-calling, intense quarrels and fighting with your significant other -- current or ex -- in front of your child can threaten his emotional security. A child's emotional well-being is influenced by the relationship between his parents -- not only the child's relationship to each parent, according to psychologist E. Mark Cummings, Ph.D. When kids witness their parents fighting and out of control, their world feels less safe. It's unrealistic to expect a conflict-free marriage, but being able to control anger and resolve differences skillfully is essential for the healthy emotional development of your child.
Let your kid know the fight was not his fault. A child who sees his parents fighting may feel guilty, believing that he's somehow to blame, according to clinical psychologist and television personality Dr. Phil McGraw. "When there are vague and ambiguous things in a child's life, they tend to fill it in to their detriment," he said in a 2003 episode of "The Dr. Phil Show." Kids will think, "Somehow, this must be my fault." If your child believes the fights are his fault, it can lead to guilt, shame, low self-esteem and aggressive behavior. Offer reassurance by sharing the reason for the fight. You might say "Your father and I were disagreeing about something related to his new job offer and it had nothing to do with you. We both love you very much."
Shift the focus away from the fight, recommends psychologist Dr. Suzanne Phillips as cited on the PBS website. Begin an enjoyable activity with your child to lessen his anxiety and show him the fighting has stopped. Play video games, take a walk outdoors or bake cookies -- what's important is lessening your child's anxiety after witnessing the fight and making him feel connected and safe, according to Phillips. Help him make sense of the fight while engaged in the new activity. You might say while baking cookies, "Your dad and I sometimes disagree over things, but we always work it out." or "I've been stressed out at work and shouldn't have lost my temper. I apologize."
Reassure your child that although he witnessed a heated argument, you and your spouse still love each other. If your kid witnessed insults and name calling, you can reverse the impact by telling him that people often say things they don't mean during angry arguments. You might say "Your dad and I said cruel and untrue things to each other, but we still love each other very much. I'm sorry I lost my cool" or "When people who love each other are mad, they sometimes say mean things. But nothing has changed and we still love each other."
Tell your child that you've made up with your spouse and resolved the conflict. It isn't the amount of fighting that impacts kids the most, but whether their parents make up, according to researcher Dr. Gordon Harold of Cardiff University as cited on the Good Morning America website. You might say, "Your dad and I couldn't agree on when to visit Grandma during our vacation, but we reached a compromise and will visit her on the drive home." After children witness fighting, it's beneficial if they see their parents resolve their differences and reach a resolution, according to associate professor of clinical psychology Rebecca A. Jones, Ph.D., on the WebMD. It teaches them that conflict can be normal and healthy if resolved through good communication.
Show affection to your spouse whenever possible in front of your children. Allow your children to see you hug, compliment, support and praise each other. Speak highly of your spouse to them even when he's not around. Avoid complaining about him, making critical remarks or blaming him for the fights. Being loving and affectionate to your spouse in front of your kids will help create balance to those times when they watched you argue and disagree, according to Phillips.