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Fighting in Front of Your Kids: Guidelines on How to Fight Fair

February 10, 2012

Fight Fair by Alice Kaltman

Alice Kaltman

Valentines Day is around the corner, and while many may be planning for a romantic, loving day with your partner, others are wondering whether they’ll be able to be in the same room without wanting to throw a verbal (or real) punch.

All couples have conflict. Couples with young kids are likely to have even more conflict. Stakes are higher, tensions are greater, sleep and sex are diminished. For many couples old gripes join new ones in a steamy stew always on the verge of boiling over. And while experts have gone back and forth on whether it’s good for kids to bear witness to their parents tussles, most of us agree: if the fight is an insult sling fest, if one person storms out, leaving the other to do damage control, when all that’s been witnessed is a berating scene of hurt feelings and no resolution, it ain’t good for anyone.  On the other hand, it can be instructive and character building for some kids to observe their parents talk through their differences, even heatedly, and reach some kind of accord in the end.

Fighting is inevitable, but fair fighting takes practice and effort. In honor of Valentines Day, and in honor of your kids EVERY day, look at the quality, content and timing of your arguments and try to follow some basic ground rules.

DONT fight about parenting decisions in front of kids, if at all possible. If your partner has started a course of action that’s not your preferred approach, keep your mouth shut, or suck it up and join in. If you really disagree with what they’re doing, develop a hand signal to indicate your disapproval and let that hand signal be the indicator that you need to talk/disagree/argue about this issue in private later on.

DO step in and disagree if you truly feel your partner’s parenting is harming your child, feel it’s downright abusive, or dangerous.

DO have open disagreements about where or what to eat, how to get places, politics, household logistics, shared responsibilities that are not being shared, plates that are not being stepped up to. Bickering is okay, especially if peppered with a sense of humor, and frequent admissions of fallibility.

DONT fight about your serious relationship issues in front of your kids. It is incredibly scary for kids to think their parents union is shaky. If your relationship is truly at risk, go get some couples therapy pronto, or at the very least save all such talks for after bedtime.

DON’T label each other. For example, if you think your partner has said something stupid, don’t say “You’re stupid.” Try at least to say, “That’s a stupid idea.” Better yet, try “I disagree. That sounds kind of stupid.” Best, “I disagree.”

DO apologize publicly. Let your kids hear you say you’re sorry. It’s fantastic when kids hear both parents taking responsibility for their part in an argument, so don’t be a stubborn, non-reflector who keeps letting the other guy take the fall. There are always two sides to an argument, so there can always be two apologies.

DO make apologies physical as well, because kids under the age of eight don’t recognize resolution unless it’s accompanied by a kiss and/or hug.

DON’T stew silently. Kids know when something’s up with their parents. If you’re having a disagreement with your partner that’s still unresolved let your kids know that you and daddy/mommy are trying to figure something out together, that’s it’s hard work, but you’re really trying. Then, live up to your words, and try.


Alice is doing a workshop on Sibling Survival:
Parenting two or more children can be a challenging and exhausting job. Siblinghood affords children intimate opportunities to learn the valuable life lessons of compassion, co-operation and compromise. When siblings co-exist harmoniously, life is a joy. But when they fight, parents are stressed to the max. This Talk focuses on how to defuse sibling tensions by looking at the underlying issues and assumptions that get in the way of effective parenting.
Where: Alice’s Brooklyn Office, 156 Hoyt Street, Boerum Hill
When: Saturday, March 10th from 10 am till 11:30 am
Cost: $20 per person
Email info@familymattersny.com to reserve your place.

Other posts by Alice:

  1. Why Kids Don’t Hear “No”
  2. Sharing: should we expect our kids to do it?
  3. Teaching Kids Tolerance
  4. Parenting: which style is “you”- how to work it out
  5. Kids regressing? Spiraling is okay
  6. Self-run parent camp: how to make it work for all of you
  7. iphones, blackberries? Why the parent in you should put them down
  8. The Parenting Res
  9. To Work or Not To Work?
  10. Regression Over the Holidays
  11. Should you lie to your kids?
  12. Can you get kids to do what you want?
  13. How can family rituals help?
  14. How to help siblings get along
  15. In defense of dads: roughhousing is good
  16. Know-it-all-mom and dad



Alice Kaltman


Alice Kaltman, L.C.S.W. has been working with parents and kids since 1988. In 2006, she co-founded Family Matters NY with Sara Zaslow, L.M.S.W. FMNY is a parenting coaching service for Brooklyn and Manhattan families, providing support through home and office visits. Alice lives in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn with her teen-age daughter and husband, the sculptor Daniel Wiener. She also writes fiction for kids, and dances professionally in her spare (?) time.  Write to Alice at info@familymattersny.com.