Friends, Relatives and Arguments

Dear Parents,

Summer fun, full of vacations and reunions, parties with friends and families. We are tribal by nature and we love getting together with our personal tribes. These are the people we love, whom we know well. Yet we don’t all hold the same exact opinions as those we care about. This can lead to arguments and even fights during get-togethers. How do we handle this with our preschooler?

Luckily, even heated arguments seldom escalate to the danger point, but when they do, trust your gut and protect your children before all else. If there is fighting or arguing that is escalating toward violence, remove yourself and your children as quickly as possible. You don’t need to apologize or make flimsy excuses—just go. Leave, even if it is your own house.

Hopefully you will never be in that situation, Instead, what you may experience are arguments and disagreements. Some of these are good for children to witness and some are not. There are two kinds of disagreements that should not take place in front of preschoolers. One is due to the nature of the conflict, the other is due to the subject matter of the conflict.

Unacceptable arguments in front of children often feature the need to win, devaluating the other person, and piling on other unresolved issues. One person may try to make the other feel somehow flawed or unworthy. While children may not understand the words or points of the argument, they will recognize the unpleasantness and begin to absorb negative feelings. Preschool children believe that they are the center of the universe, therefore when there is any unpleasantness, they rightly or wrongly connect it to something they did. You have a choice of asking those involved to stop because of the children, or to move the children out of earshot.

The next type of argument (or intense discussion) may follow all the rules of fair fighting but still be unhealthy for children to witness. The experts recommend not talking about money worries, concerns about children, and discipline decisions in front of children. In addition, worries about the future (for example, a possible move or job loss) should be discussed out of earshot of little ones. People are usually willing to shift topics when reminded that children are listening.

Healthy arguing among adults is actually good for children. Children observe the arguments which then forms the core of their future conflict resolution skills. Children learn that some anger is normal and that people can disagree and still get along. Children learn how to speak their feelings and reach healthy compromises rather than stifling feelings or engaging in angry outbursts.

It is up to adults to ensure that an environment is kid friendly. It’s up to parents to monitor situations which may become unhealthy for their children. Members of your “tribe” will help you in this because they care about you and your family.


Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.

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