I had an interesting experience. A parent was in the room while I was asking a child how mad she feels when she is mad. This young child had a pretty good idea about how mad she felt. Here is the interesting part: While we were talking, Mom kept replacing mad with the word bad.
There is nothing bad about feeling mad. People get angry and when they get angry, most of us, can understand how that person came to feel the way they feel. Feelings are happen. What frustrates and irritates you may not be what frustrates your child or your co-parent. It may not be something you want to frustrate you. AND, it does. That is not to say that nothing can go wrong when someone feels angry. Feeling angry is not the same as showing our anger. When we show our anger, things can go badly quickly unless we have tools for bringing down the intensity and managing how we show it.
Young children have a lot of needs and it is very often frustrating to parents because too often we cannot meet these needs to the degree that we want to with the resources that we have. It is pretty normal to feel really frustrated in that situation. It makes sense in that environment that parents feel more anger toward each other, if they don”t work on coping with these frustrations. People get angry and they fight. Makes sense, so what?
Well, research has consistently shown that when children witness violence toward a family member, they have more problems with adjustment. They are more likely to display anxiety, depression, and aggression. More limited research has looked at what happens when very young children witness angry conflicts between family members. Turns out that it probably isn’t so good but it is hard to test.
It is hard to test because too many people expose their kids to fighting. Too often they think that since the children are too young to remember, there won’t be any impact. But exposing children to angry conflict probably does have a negative impact on adjustment. One study by a team of researchers looking at large sample of families with children (1 -3 years old) in the Northeast found that there was some evidence of adjustment problems among children who witnessed angry fights between adults. It was clear in the research that there were more problems for kids exposed to violence and for kids whose mothers were depressed or anxious but there were some trends suggesting that exposure to angry conflict made things more difficult for young children. More work is needed to see what happens over time as the children develop. More data from other observers besides the caregiver would also be important.
Think about what children are seeing when they see you fight with someone. Think about what that feels like. How do you feel, if you observe two people yelling at each other? What would it be like, if those two people were responsible for some important aspect of your well-being?
Doesn’t it seem like it would be pretty disorganizing and frightening? Can the argument wait? Wouldn’t it be better to solve the problem when you feel better?