published Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Help for families: What to do after fighting in front of your child

Tips for parents arguing in front of a toddler

Demonstrate you and your spouse have made up and aren’t angry anymore.

Reassure your child that she is safe with hugs and loving words.

Don’t have another bad argument in front of your child.

If arguing becomes chronic, get marriage counseling.

Be available and let the child decide when to come to you.

Consider going to couple’s therapy to learn how to fight.

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

Q: My husband and I got into a huge argument the other night in front of our 1 1/2 -year-old. She is now afraid to go to her father. It has been two days now and nothing has changed. Please help.

A: You need to reassure your daughter that she is safe in her family, the Help for Families panel says. Don’t try to push her. It may take some time.

“You need to show you and your husband have recovered from the argument,” says panelist Marcie Lightwood. “Demonstrate that you no longer are angry and don’t want to hurt each other.”

It’s OK to go a little overboard in trying to show your daughter everything’s all right, Lightwood adds. Give her lots of hugs and reassurances.

Having a conflict in front of a child actually can be positive, says panelist Denise Continenza.

Make sure that she sees you and your husband have made up and said “I’m sorry.” She will learn that people can get angry at each other and argue but that it doesn’t mean they don’t care about each other. It also models problem solving and shows her it takes effort to work out differences.

It’s unusual that such a young child is holding on to her fear for so long, says panelist Bill Vogler.

“You didn’t do irreparable harm by having one bad argument,” Vogler says. “But if it becomes chronic then you have to work on it and might consider marital therapy. If it’s a once-and-done event I wouldn’t worry, but if it was the manifestation of long-lying undercurrent of tension, your daughter will hone in on that. You need to work on your relationship. Children’s reactions often reflect the atmosphere at home.”

Don’t have another bad argument in front of your daughter, he says.

“Her father may have to go to extremes to reconnect with this child,’ Vogler says. “Dad needs to do everything he can so the child feels safe.”

One way to reconnect is the child’s father could sit in the playroom and play with one of the child’s toys or have a favorite treat and wait for the child to approach him, says Lightwood.

“Let the child decide when to come,” she says.

Another tactic is for both parents to sit together and read one of the child’s favorite books out loud until she comes to join them at her own pace, Vogler says.

You should consider going to couple’s therapy to learn how to fight, Lightwood says. There are ways to fight that are constructive and don’t harm the family.

“Your daughter’s security was threatened and she needs to be reassured,” Continenza says. “Both you and your husband need to get tools in place to handle future conflict.”

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