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We have this little discussion here: Should I let my baby play with oranges?

I believe that it is always better for parents to avoid disagreeing, arguing, etc., in front of the kids, especially when they're young. I thought it was basic common sense, but it seems not everyone agrees to that statement. I'm interested in the different point of views on the matter.

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    I can't find the studies on this computer so I'll write a comment. There is nothing wrong with arguing, as long as it doesn't escalate too much/too often (yelling, throwing stuff, calling names). In either case, the most important thing is to reconcile infront of the kid, not in private. If it's done in private, the parents need to tell the kid that they found a solution. Doing this reverse the bad effect (in the child brain) of seeing their parents fight. – the_lotus Dec 15 '15 at 12:36
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    Disagreeing in front of the kids is fine. It's fighting in front of them that will cause real problems. – Mason Wheeler Dec 15 '15 at 16:11
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    I would like to recommend a book. "The Intimate Enemy" by George R Bach. I wish I didn't have to say "It changed my life," but that's about the only way to put it. The idea is that people who are close to each other must fight to maintain a healthy relationship, so here's how to do it without hurting the relationship. – Andrew Dec 15 '15 at 21:21
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    @Guillaume - it is inevitable - inevitable - that two people in close contact will eventually disagree. Failure to openly disagree because of cultural submission, politeness, etc., should not be mistaken as perpetual agreement. The way in which people can disagree can be healthy - openly with a mind towards a common ground - or unhealthy, resulting in emotional harm to one party or the other. What you espouse as the ideal is in fact very far from it. – anongoodnurse Dec 16 '15 at 20:19
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    @Guillaume: I'm most bothered by the arbitrary ages (7, 5, 15) that you've mentioned in various comments for "when to allow XYZ". Children are real people, with their own personalities, and every person is different. Even my 3 year old son has intelligent thoughts & opinions, and I truly value the input he has on various topics. – Lindsey D Dec 16 '15 at 20:57
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I firmly believe it is inevitable that two people in close contact over time will disagree; that this is part of being a alive and having healthy desires. Failure to openly disagree because of cultural submission, politeness, etc., should not be mistaken as lack of disagreement. The way in which people disagree - openly, respectfully, cherishing the other, with a mind towards common ground - can be healthy and can bring them closer together. Alternatively it can be unhealthy, resulting in emotional harm to one degree or another to one party. What you espouse in your comments as the ideal is in fact very far from it. If you can't model how to disagree in love, you can't model a vital part of cherishing a person.

Personally, I think it's perfectly fine to disagree in front of children - about some things. Points to consider:

  • Disagreements occur all the time. Parents can model healthy ways to disagree and to solve conflict to their children.
  • Your child will disagree with you all the time. Pretending parents don't disagree might send a message that adults get over that kind of thing, which would create an unrealistic world view for the child.
  • Disagreeing respectfully helps children learn that they won't lose a parent's love because they have different opinions. Learning to think for oneself is a life skill that's inhibited if parents pretend disagreements don't occur between two people who love each other.
  • No one is perfect. Imagine if parents had to support each other in what is an obvious mistake. If there is disagreement, there's an opportunity to model forgiveness (as well as apologizing/asking for forgiveness) in front of the children as well.

I would say, though, that parents should provide a united front at all times in the matter of establishing rules and consequences for children, and discuss differences of opinion in private. This helps to prevent the child playing one parent off against the other.

Edited to add in response to a comment:

We used to have family conferences - including the kids - where we all contributed to the discussion and made joint decisions together - on what was and wasn't allowed, why (if this was a top-down decision) and appropriate consequences. The kids were often given new privileges this way, and when they broke the rules, they knew they had already agreed to their appropriateness before, so it cut down on the "no fair!!!" aspect. This to me is more about decision making within a family (which does involve some disagreement), but not what I would categorize as parents disagreeing in front of the kids.

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    I think the point was you can disagree in general about things, except for disagreeing about the rules/consequences for children. In that case you should present a united front at all times, and only discuss disagreements about the rules/consequences in private. – Lyndon White Dec 15 '15 at 8:08
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    I came here meaning to write pretty much exactly this. Oh well, here's your upvote instead. .) – sbi Dec 15 '15 at 12:49
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    I recall a story about a couple who tried very hard to keep their disagreements polite and respectful when in front of the children. They realised it wasn't working when one of their children said "He called me 'darling' first!". – Paul Johnson Dec 15 '15 at 18:21
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    @Guillaume well, you can always write your own answer. I do think 7 year old have valid opinions, for what's it worth. – YviDe Dec 16 '15 at 8:01
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    I've heard of people being so careful to shelter their children from disagreement, that as married adults the children were horrified at the fights they had and believed incorrectly that they were unusual and a sign of serious trouble within the marriage. I think this is an excellent answer to explain when and how to allow your children to see you disagree. – wedstrom Dec 18 '15 at 0:14
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I would go further and not just say that it's okay to disagree when children are able to hear their parents, but necessary. Children need to learn how people can respectfully disagree with each other and come to a conclusion that is acceptable for both parties. Who could be a better role model for that then their own parents?

Now, this is for respectful disagreement, so the usual rules for respectful discourse apply:

  • no yelling
  • no personal attacks
  • no violence

etc.

At one point, children also need to start feeling that they also get to have an opinion and a voice and how they can voice that disagreement with their parents. And, yes, at one point kids will understand that parents aren't always right. That's also normal and healthy.

In your comment you say that it "can be educative for a 15 year old" - to me, that age seems way too high.

As others before me have said, certain topics should not be discussed in front of the children. What was discussed in the original post, which was basically an issue about the mental health situation of one parent, is one of those discussion.

But a normal disagreement about what to do on the weekend, whose turn it is to do the dishes (thus realizing that these are things that need to be discussed and agreed on) is nothing to avoid. In addition to that, any way to avoid them is just going to be really obvious to a child - if you move to another room to argue, your kids will notice, believe me. Likewise, they'll notice if a parent carries resentment because they were overruled without having voiced their opinion.

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    It might also be worth mentioning that having a heated argument in presence of the child can be very distressing for the child. – Philipp Dec 15 '15 at 14:07
  • I think this is the most correct answer so far. – Dronz Dec 15 '15 at 20:38
  • I would argue that discussions of mental health issues would quite reasonably fall under "personal attacks" as they could be construed as such by someone not fully immersed in the situation. – James Snell Dec 16 '15 at 10:56
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    Respectful disagreement is the key. However, I'd expect that if you're not capable of handling disagreements with respect, you're not going to be able to teach it to your kids either. Yelling is an intimidation tactic - an act of violence. Personal attacks are not arguments - they're an intimidation tactic. Violence is not an argument. If your kid can see you arguing in a respectable way, it will emulate you in their own life - and that's a good thing. If you avoid disagreements in front of the children, where will they learn how to handle them? – Luaan Dec 16 '15 at 15:25
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Disagreements are perfectly fine. Moreover, I believe that, as children grow, they should be able to influence some parents' decisions. Partly by disagreeing with them.

There are two things to consider: how to disagree and about what can the child disagree.

Making decisions together, discussing things, allowing a kid to try to convince us about something, to show his/hers point of view - these are all perfectly fine. Screaming at each other, throwing stuff, violence - these are unacceptable. So as long as you keep it civilised, it is ok. Your kids also have to know and understand that the final decision is yours. You can help them accept that fact by a) being consistent about the things you disallow and b) letting your kids "win" sometimes.

Also, there are some things which should not be arguable. Anything violating anyone else's rights, property, breaking any law is unacceptable. Your kids will learn which laws can be bent on their own, you should never reinforce the notion yourself, even (or especially!) by crossing a street on a red light.

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    "breaking any law is unacceptable": why? I'd understand that some principles are not arguable, but laws? Not a lawyer but I suspect I break "laws" every day. – Guillaume Dec 15 '15 at 7:33
  • @Guillaume I don't know where you live; in my country most laws regulating everyday life have at least some merit (and I actually can't think of one that doesn't). I believe in teaching our children to uphold them. Driving on the right side of the road, crossing the street properly, not stealing, and so on. What laws do you break? Are you sure you want to teach your kids to do the same? – Dariusz Dec 15 '15 at 7:42
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    @Dariusz I've not fact checked it but one of the first results from google: cracked.com/… – Tim B Dec 15 '15 at 16:20
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    Or try this one about laws in the UK from a reasonably reputable source: independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/… – Tim B Dec 15 '15 at 16:21
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    Most European law systems are civil laws, with UK being an exception. USA law system, as UK's, is salso a common law. You will not find such absurd laws in civil law systems - though there are other kinds absurds, of course. – Dariusz Dec 15 '15 at 18:56
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Well, my kids grew up with disagreements being discussed at the table. Understand that by this I mean 'differences of opinion or conclusions on a particular topic'. Now that they are grown, they tell me this was a valuable part of their educations...both for process and content. NOT to be confused with parents having a serious conflict (particularly as regards the children,) which I regard as a definite error...it does tend to lead the little darlings to believe that they can play one parent against the other, and that is NO way to go. Certainly those disagreements will happen, but they need to be handled privately by the parents.

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I would go so far as to say that children seeing their parents (or adults of any sort) disagree, but come away amicably, is an excellent thing for growth and understanding. Especially in today's culture where everyone is on eggshells so as not to offend anyone or "be different". It's important for kids to understand that people don't always agree, even people who love one another, and that it's ok to disagree, argue, discuss, and find middle ground - and that sometimes middle ground cannot be found and that that is ok as well.

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Conflict is a part of life. Your children are basically sponges that absorb enrything you see and do. Showing them how to have conflict, that conflict is healthy, and how to properly resolve conflict is critical to their future health and well-being.

Its natural to not want to fight with someone you love. Conflict is unpleasant. But the only way to the other side of it is through, not around.

The larger disservice that can be done to the kid is to teach them that life should be conflict free, or that conflict is something to be ashamed of, or that we shouldn't try to make amends after we make mistakes. Regardless of how you proceed always remember that your kid is learning from everything you are saying and doing and ask yourself, "Is this how I would like to teach my child how to deal with this situation?"

Disclaimer: This advice is assumed for a household that is a safe environment. If there is any question of safety of either parent or the children, seek professional help - and do so quickly.

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Resolving conflict in front of your children is absolutely critical to their social development. Parents who do not argue in front of their children end up with children who do not know how to express themselves in socially acceptable ways.

On a related note, letting your children express their views on issues is critically important to developing their sense of purpose and ambition. Children who are not given a say in decisions, do not learn how to plan and manage their lives. Even if the child has no influence on the decision you make, hearing their opinion encourages them to practice problem solving skills on a regular basis. Luck is just recognizing an opportunity that you are prepared to leverage. That skill is all about evaluating options, even when you don't think you control the decision.

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Answering my own question feels weird, but I have been asked to do so.

There is a lot of cultural context at play. I have been living in China for more than 10 years, and working in a Chinese company where I am the only foreigner. In this company, I have seen only twice an explicit disagreement. In this country, it is very unusual to see children openly disagree with their parents. Obviously it do not mean people always agree or do not have feelings or desires or opinions. But, the Chinese have a long experience in living together and have gained from this experience that openly disagreeing is doing more harm than good. Obviously in some more traditional societies of Eastern Asia, it can and does go way too far, e.g. in Japan.

But, with this in mind, when I go back to my country (France), or watch movie, TV, listen to radio, I am surprised at the amount of open disagreement and arguing I see or hear. It is almost as if agreeing or having no strong opinions on a given topic would be seen as a lack of personality.

And, on the other sides, I see that the people I admire are actually very capable to listen, agree, take the other's opinion in account. This is mostly because they have a strong personality, therefore have no fear of appearing to be weak in the eyes of others, and then do not mind agreeing, or more precisely, allow themselves to express their position only when it is worth it.

Now to the kids. From what I see in cartoons, comics, everything for kids produced in the West, is that we try to build their ego by teaching them to express their desire strongly, asking them for their choice all the time, and so on. Here some people mentioned "family concils". But I maintain that either the choice is unimportant (like which kind of marmelade we buy) or too important to be "discussed" with kids: their opinion on the matter will not change anything anyway. An example of the second case could be "do we move to another country?" What do you want a kid to meaningfully "decide" or "contribute" about such a choice?

So, for unimportant choices I think the best is to not discuss in front of the kids, by fear to influence them in being picky. For important choices, it is unfair to let kids believe they have a voice in the discussion, because they don't, or shouldn't (a kid will not want to move to another country, and will be the fastest to adapt and the happiest once there, essentially kids do not know what's good for them).

I am pushing a bit too far, probably. But I feel it is more fair and saner, and also make kids happier. (Just one more example: we never say we do not like a dish in front of the kids, even when it is disgusting. Result is our kids kind of likeeverything.)

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    I'm glad to see that you posted - answering your own questions is encouraged on Stackexchange. I don't agree, but that's okay :-) For the record, my parents never said they didn't like a food in front of me that I recall, and I ended up hating most stuff anyway... "What do you want a kid to meaningfully "decide" or "contribute" about such a choice?" A LOT. I'd want them to know that such a decision is not made lightly, and therefore they need to see that it is being discussed at all. And of course they can contribute - with their fears and hopes. That's things that need to be addressed – YviDe Dec 17 '15 at 11:41
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    You tie in agreeing with not being afraid of looking wrong or weak, which I think is a very interesting and valid point (some combative people I know argue because of personal history of being ignored or dismissed, and they now as adults want to feel validated and heard). I am curious how a valid disagreement between parents can be resolved, though -- e.g., child asks whether they can shop in a store alone, one parent is in favor (encouraging independence!) and the other not (too immature!). With no pre-existing understanding of the other's position, how do they proceed to reach consensus? – Acire Dec 17 '15 at 11:50
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    For the record, not saying that the first discussion about a life altering choice like that should be done with everyone involved and having an equal vote - What I am getting at is that in subsequent discussions, kids shouldn't be "told", and also that it's perfectly fine for them to see if the parents are not in full agreement over all aspects of it - it helps them feel less alone with their doubts and fears, I'd argue. Other than that, also totally seconding @Erica 's question – YviDe Dec 17 '15 at 11:56
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    "the Chinese have a long experience in living together and have gained from this experience that openly disagreeing is doing more harm than good" You've made a big leap there. Lots of societies have long experience of living together, and yet different societies develop different norms of behavior. You've assumed the Chinese model of avoiding disagreement is a more beneficial adaptation than those of other cultures, with only anecdotal evidence (your perception). That's an opinion, an assumption, not a fact. I suspect it's a fallacious one. – T.J. Crowder Dec 20 '15 at 9:48
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    "...we never say we do not like a dish in front of the kids, even when it is disgusting. Result is our kids kind of like everything." I find this really hard to believe. Kids are not biologically little adults, and there are some flavors and textures that a majority of children just don't like. This comment reinforces (to me) that your views on things may be shaping your perceptions/beliefs to a significant degree. – anongoodnurse Dec 20 '15 at 23:06
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Its imperative that parents NOT disagree too much in front of children, it can harm them for life. So parents who dont "care" are the ones who need to get educated on a few things. Children are in a kind of imagination-first world, little kids are still in a kind of cartoon-world and see things as they observe them. You do not know as a parent what they imagine when they hear disagreement, so parents must learn to do this in the right way, with compassion and love and fairness. You may disagree with your spouse, but you oppose your own child when you take sides against their (mother) or (father).

Another thing, as we get older, biologically we change and get more irritable and less patient you must intellectually keep that in mind.

Arguments should be done by parents going somewhere else, showing the children they have a safe and thriving home and they are unconditionally loved; show that there is disagreement but do the same you'd want when siblings fight and get angry, step back, be fair, cool off.

having parents argue in front of children can train the child to be dysfunctional in marriage and in life, let alone be emotionally scarred. Not very fair.

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    I respectfully disagree. My daughter, now 17, sees that we argue, discuss, and come to a resolution. When she was 8 or so, she heard us arguing, and asked if we were getting divorced. I told her we had known each other for 20 years, and friends don't always agree. (It should be clear - we've never raised a hand to each other or our daughter. And I'd never name-call.) I do acknowledge the "too much" in your first sentence and agree with that. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Dec 18 '15 at 17:18
  • Then I think that your situation is rare and in your case your child gets to observe how rational and common sense minded or informed and prepared parents disagree and resolve the issue. Much of the time, parents use horrible words or profanity, when that degrades it becomes physical violence, scarring the child for life, When I say argue, it does need a qualifier; Many parents are selfish and do not know how to resolve disagreements, so they lash out and destroy, the child learns this is the way to deal with your spouse, and it continues – Brad Rogers Dec 21 '15 at 16:51

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