It's normal for parents to disagree and argue from time to time. Parents might disagree about money, home chores, or how to spend time. They might disagree about big things — like important decisions they need to make for the family. They might even disagree about little things that don't seem important at all — like what's for dinner or what time someone gets home.
Sometimes parents can disagree with each other and still manage to talk about it in a calm way, where both people get a chance to listen and to talk. But many times when parents disagree, they argue. An argument is a fight using words.
Most kids worry when their parents argue. Loud voices and angry words parents might use can make kids feel scared, sad, or upset. Even arguments that use silence — like when parents act angry and don't talk to each other at all — can be upsetting for kids.
If the argument has anything to do with the kids, kids might think they have caused their parents to argue and fight. If kids think it's their fault, they might feel guilty or even more upset. But parents' behavior is never the fault of kids.
What Does It Mean When Parents Fight?
Kids often worry about what it means when parents fight. They might jump to conclusions and think arguments mean their parents don't love each other anymore. They might think it means their parents will get a divorce.
But parents' arguments usually don't mean that they don't love each other or that they're getting a divorce. Most of the time the arguments are just a way to let off steam when parents have a bad day or feel stressed out over other things. Most people lose their cool now and then.
Just like kids, when parents get upset they might cry, yell, or say things they don't really mean. Sometimes an argument might not mean anything except that one parent or both just lost their temper. Just like kids, parents might argue more if they're not feeling their best or are under a lot of stress from a job or other worries.
How Do Kids Feel When Their Parents Fight?
Kids usually feel upset when they see or hear parents arguing. It's hard to hear the yelling and the unkind words. Seeing parents upset and out of control can make kids feel unprotected and scared.
Kids might worry about one parent or the other during an argument. They might worry that one parent may feel especially sad or hurt because of being yelled at by the other parent. They might worry that one parent seems angry enough to lose control. They might worry that their parent might be angry with them, too, or that someone might get hurt.
Sometimes parents' arguments make kids cry or give them a stomachache. Worry from arguments can even make it hard for a kid to go to sleep or go to school.
What to Do When Parents Fight
It's important to remember that the parents are arguing or fighting, not the kids. So the best thing to do is to stay out of the argument and go somewhere else in the house to get away from the fighting or arguing. So go to your room, close the door, find something else to do until it is over. It's not the kid's job to be a referee.
When Parents' Fighting Goes Too Far
When parents argue, there can be too much yelling and screaming, name calling, and too many unkind things said. Even though many parents may do this, it's never OK to treat people in your family with disrespect, use unkind words, or yell and scream at them.
Sometimes parents' fighting may go too far, and include pushing and shoving, throwing things, or hitting. These things are never OK. When parents' fights get physical in these ways, the parents need to learn to get their anger under control. They might need the help of another adult to do this.
Kids who live in families where the fighting goes too far can let someone know what's going on. Talking to other relatives, a teacher, a school counselor, or any adult you trust about the fighting can be important.
If Someone Gets Hurt
Sometimes parents who fight can get so out of control that they hurt each other, and sometimes kids can get hurt, too. If this happens, kids can let an adult know, so that the family can be helped and protected from fighting in a way that hurts people.
If fighting is out of control in a family, if people are getting hurt from fighting, or if people in the family are tired of too much fighting, there is help. Family counselors and therapists know how to help families work on problems, including fighting.
They can help by teaching family members to listen to each other and talk about feelings without yelling and screaming. Though it may take some work, time, and practice, people in families can always learn to get along better.
Is It OK for Parents to Argue Sometimes?
Having arguments once in a while can be healthy if it helps people get feelings out in the open instead of bottling them up inside. It's important for people in a family to be able to tell each other how they feel and what they think, even when they disagree. The good news about disagreeing is that afterward people usually understand each other better and feel closer.
Parents fight for different reasons. Maybe they had a bad day at work, or they're not feeling well, or they're really tired. Just like kids, when parents aren't feeling their best, they can get upset and might be more likely to argue. Most of the time, arguments are over quickly, parents apologize and make up, and everyone feels better again.
Happy, Healthy Families
No family is perfect. Even in the happiest home, problems pop up and people argue from time to time. Usually, the family members involved get what's bothering them out in the open and talk about it. Everyone feels better, and life can get back to normal.
Being part of a family means everyone pitches in and tries to make life better for each other. Arguments happen and that's OK, but with love, understanding, and some work, families can solve almost any problem.
Reviewed by: W. Douglas Tynan, PhD, ABPP
Date reviewed: January 2015