By William and Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., Web reprint
All parents occasionally become angry with each other in the presence of their young children, but if you manage to maintain a reasonably pleasant atmosphere until you are alone, you will spare your child from dealing with relationship complexities for which he is developmentally unprepared.
However, if, in spite of your best intentions, a quarrel breaks out in front of your son, stop the hostilities as soon as you can and reassure your son by saying, “We’re sorry we upset you—we know it’s hard for you when we argue. Mommy and Daddy love each other even when we fight, and we both love you all the time!”
There is a popular but mistaken notion that “real life” unpleasantness will strengthen the character of the young. In reality, their developmental immaturity prevents young children from defending themselves against the emotional pain they feel when things go wrong. So parental arguments and other painful events leave young children more—rather than less—vulnerable to stress.
On the other hand, if you do shield your son from distressing experiences in general, and especially from the pain of witnessing you and your spouse fighting, over time he will learn to develop an abiding optimism about his world and his ability to have the harmony and love that he wants and needs. As he grows older, this positive outlook will give him the strength and resilience to respond effectively to the challenges of everyday life.
So the next time you feel angry in your child’s presence, try to remember that what feels like an everyday blowup to you feels like a nuclear explosion to him, and do your best to contain your anger until you are alone. It will be easier if you realize that in this way you nourish your son’s emotional well-being as surely as you care for his physical health by keeping him out of the street and away from the stove.
“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”