How To Make a Fight With Your Partner Into a Positive Learning Experience for Your Child

Written byTBOG

Workplace Emotions Consultant | Family Wellness Instructor | Certified Physiologist| Developmental and Social Psychologist | Managing Partner TSAGEandTBOG Consult | Cherie Blair Foundation Mentee Alumna | CoFounder Remake Africa

Apr 4, 2023

Hello TBOG, in your last email, I noticed that you advocated that parents should not fight in front of their children because it makes the children anxious. But I read somewhere else that fighting is fine as long as you ‘make up’ afterwards and the children see that.”


And that’s quite true! In the book titled, NurtureShock: New Thinking about Children, by science journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, a Professor of Psychology, Mark Cummings, was reported stating that as long as parents “made up” with each other afterwards, the children easily recovered from the incident. But Mark Cummings who actually carried out the research emphasized that this was only so if the parents were disagreeing, not yelling, so there were no raised voices, insults, or disrespect involved.


However, when such fights come with yelling or blatant disrespect, children do get anxious and it’s interesting to know that Mark Cummings had in previous research established that when these fights are recurring, they are damaging to children. He was also curious to know whether normal conflicts were a problem. So, he observed children’s reactions as their parents disagreed without yelling. It turned out that even these plain old ‘simple’ conflicts were quite upsetting to children. So yes, even non-yelling disagreements where parents are in conflict are hard on children.


Thankfully though, when the children also watched their parents resolve the arguments, they were fine afterwards. I think children learn critical lifelong lessons from watching their parents disagree [respectfully] and mend ways as soon as possible. The key lesson in this is that whenever you have any kind of disagreement with your spouse with your children present, even if it’s without yelling, ensure that you fondly and deliberately amend that relationship right there in their presence.


These are some scenarios where parents’ “fighting” can actually serve as a positive learning experience for your child::


  1. One parent snaps at the other, then immediately reassesses the situation and corrects his/her behaviour by saying…

“I’m so sorry. I’m just feeling stressed and I’m taking it out on you. Can we try that all over? What I meant to say was…”

Children learn from this modelling that anyone can get angry, but that it’s essential to take responsibility for our own emotions, apologize, and reconnect. You’ll in time see your child start to reassess, apologize and course-correct, too.


  1. In the event of a difference of opinion, parents should work through it without getting triggered and raising their voices.

For instance, if you and your spouse have a good-natured discussion about who should clean the toilet or whether to press the toothpaste from the bottom or top, the lesson your child learns is that humans can live together with different needs and opinions, listen to each other, and make a decision that is convenient for all – all in a respectful and affectionate manner.


  1. When parents notice that they are approaching a hotbed of dissension and a conflict is brewing, they can agree to discuss it later.

All things being equal, this happens before there’s any yelling [otherwise you’ll be modelling yelling] and hopefully, you can close the interaction with a big hug. If you’re too upset, you can take some time to cool off using the S.T.O.P. principle then prioritize hugging your spouse in front of your child, with a family mantra like “It’s okay to get upset. You can be angry at someone and still love them at the same time. In our family, we always work things out.” This takes a great deal of maturity, but it models self-regulation and self-leadership. And this is crucial to restoring your child’s sense of safety.



Refraining from yelling and being respectful is not only good for our children but it’s best for our relationship, too. Anger is not a negative emotion, it is a message to us about what we need. Our job is to pay attention clearly enough to understand that need and articulate it respectfully. There’s always a way to ask for what we need without attacking the other person. It’s never appropriate to dump anger on another person, whether in front of your children or not.


I know that it’s not so easy to do. You’re right if you think so particularly because most of us never learned how to manage our own emotions, express our needs without attacking. We weren’t taught how to handle conflict in a healthy way. It is why I am always grateful for the lessons our children compel us to learn, unlearn and relearn. Every couple can learn healthy conflict resolution. And you can repair things with your children if you’ve been fighting in front of them.



The bottom line is that all couples have disagreements, but parents yelling is always scary to children. Children will recover just fine if parents handle their disagreements with respect and good will, looking for solutions instead of passing blames. However, when we yell or show disrespect to children, it poses an emotional risk factor, and apologizing does not mitigate the problem.





Message From TBOG:

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