Kids May Benefit from Witnessing Some Arguments Between Parents

Child in front of parents arguingContrary to popular belief, witnessing arguments between parents may not always be bad for children. According to new research published in the Journal of Family Psychology, it’s how those arguments are handled that matters.

Children who witness constructive arguments between their parents may benefit from the experience. Compared to children whose parents engage in destructive argument patterns, children exposed to constructive disagreements were more emotionally secure.

Arguing in Front of Children: Conflict Style Matters

The study used data from the Building Strong Families Project, which focused on families with low incomes. These families face many stressors that put them at risk for conflict. Researchers analyzed data collected when children in the study were about 3 years old. Both mothers and fathers answered questions about how they managed conflict, as well as how their children reacted to conflicts between the parents.

The study defined constructive conflict as conflict in which couples stayed focused on a single topic and made progress toward a solution. Constructive conflict also meant avoiding anger and resentment and sticking to the present instead of bringing up past disputes.

Researchers identified the following styles of conflict management: relationships in which both partners managed conflict constructively; relationships in which both partners managed conflict destructively; and relationships in which one partner was more destructive than the other.

They found no correlation between conflict management style and parenting style. This suggests parents could behave lovingly with their children even when they were destructive with their partners. But even when parents were loving, children who witnessed destructive conflicts suffered. Compared to those who witnessed constructive conflict, children who had one destructive parent were more likely to feel emotionally insecure.

Why Some Conflict Can Be Beneficial

Researchers noted that levels of emotional insecurity were lowest among children whose parents both engaged in destructive conflict. This may be because the parents were more likely to separate by the time data was collected. The fact that so few parents fit into this group might also have skewed the data.

Though stereotypes suggest low-income families may have more constructive conflicts due to stress, the study found destructive conflict was relatively uncommon. Both partners were destructive in just 3% of families. More than half of couples both consistently argued constructively.

Therapists interested in supporting families, particularly low-income families, should consider that not all conflict is harmful. Instead, helping families discuss disagreements more constructively may benefit families and children.


  1. Kopystynska, O., Paschall, K. W., Barnett, M. A., & Curran, M. A. (2017). Patterns of interparental conflict, parenting, and children’s emotional insecurity: A person-centered approach. Journal of Family Psychology. doi:10.1037/fam0000343
  2. Parents: How you manage conflict has an impact on your kids. (2017, September 20). Retrieved from

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  • Danna

    September 27th, 2017 at 2:28 PM

    As long as they can see that their parents can argue in a fashion that remains respectable and doesn’t hit below the belt, then yeah, I think that it is good for them to see that you can have disagreements and then get over it and move on.
    we have to be positive role models for our children and I think that a good way to do that is to show them that you can argue with people that you love and that doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship.
    You don’t hit, you don’t scream, and yeah you might be mad for a while but you talk about it and then get over it.
    That’s the way to show them that this is what adults do.

  • Joe

    September 29th, 2017 at 11:43 AM

    Yes! I am so glad to see this. I don’t think that the realities of life have to be hidden away from kids just because they are kids. It can be good for them to see that their mom and dad may not always see eye to eye on everything but that in a loving relationship overall, they don’t have to. You just have to be willing at times to compromise and apologize and leave the past behind you. This can be a way to teach kids what it looks like to be in a healthy and mature relationship, and I think that this is doing them a favor for later on when they look at their own relationships and have some perspective about how to behave and how not to.

  • matthew

    September 30th, 2017 at 11:33 AM

    Just be mindful of the content is what I would encourage. I do not think that every argument that there is to be had is best served being had in front of your children. Yes there are some things that they can handle and some that would be best to be left behind closed doors or when they are not at home. I think that if something starts then you can always model to them the way to successfully stop the discussion right there are show them that it is ok to promise to come back to it at another times. So some differences I am fine with hashing out in front of them, but not all fights are child material.

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