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Should you fight in front of your kids? Experts say 'maybe'

Sep. 24, 2013 at 2:42 PM ET

Video: Most parents worry about whether they should argue in front of their kids, but experts Jennifer Hartstein, Farah Miller and David Vienna say there is a difference between arguing and fighting, and advise that allowing kids to see debate and problem-solving is important for their development.

Every couple with kids has faced the predicament: Should you fight in front of your children?

Most parents know to take their fights elsewhere — at least that’s what conventional wisdom has dictated. But new research suggests the answer is slightly more complicated.

Some child psychologists told the Wall Street Journal it’s OK to argue in front of the kids — but only if both parents are doing it in a healthy way. They said modeling constructive conflict resolution can actually teach children how to approach disagreements they will have in their lives.

Kirsten Cullen Sharma, a child psychologist with the Child Study Center at New York University, clarified that having a healthy argument means using respect and leaving out the name-calling and insults.

“One of the things we want parents to be thinking about is where to cut themselves off when they’re arguing,” she said Wednesday on TODAY. “There are certain skills they can model for their kids, that their kids can use in their own peer relationships and in romantic relationships down the line.”

Sharma also warned that nonverbal cues are just as powerful as what actually gets said.

“If you’re doing things like slamming the door, throwing your hands up in the air, giving the silent treatment, you can send really important and negative messages to your children,” she said.

A few pointers for when having an argument in front of the kids:

  • Set an anger cut-off point;
  • Avoid “triangulation,” or pulling a child into the argument;
  • Skip the silent treatment.

Sharma also advised against fighting about certain personal topics, like financial matters or how to tackle discipline strategies.

What do you think? Tell us!

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