The last one will really surprise you.
Let’s face it: All parents have conflicts, and we all say things that we wish we could take back. Just the very fact of raising a child together, with all the manic scheduling, compromising, and disciplining, is going to make you butt heads now and then. And of course, those conflicts do occasionally spill over into the living room or the kitchen table, where your child can’t help but overhear, even if it seems he’s more interested in his tablet.
“Kids are very sensitive, they’re picking up on what you are saying whether they seem to be listening or not,” says E. Mark Cummings, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame. He adds that arguing in front of kids is not necessarily harmful; it’s all about how you get through the argument and how you treat each other.
With that in mind, here are a few sentences you should delete from your script—especially when little ones are within earshot.
“You’re such an idiot!”
Disagreeing with your partner is a fact of life, but crossing the line to cruelty or name-calling teaches your child a dangerous lesson. “When you go out of bounds by calling names, swearing, using biting sarcasm or contempt, you are teaching your kids that is how grown-ups communicate with each other,” says Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver psychologist and author of It Takes Two. “You want to model that you can disagree, but in a respectful manner.”
“If Tommy wasn’t late getting ready for school this morning, then I would have had time to pick up your dry cleaning.”
Whatever the issue is between you and your partner, leave your child out of it, says Cummings. “You don’t want your kid to think they are responsible for any problems in your marriage.”
“I saw you flirting with that single mom at the barbecue.”
Even if you’re just joking around, your child may hear this and immediately worry that something is wrong in your marriage. Keep any discussions about intimacy in private, where they belong.
“Your mother is driving me insane... that woman is a psycho!”
Remember, she may be your annoying mother-in-law, but she is also your child’s grandmother. Unless she is doing something really appalling, don’t try to poison your child’s relationship with her Nana (or Gramps, Aunt, or Uncle, etc.) by calling her names.
“If you keep spending money like that, we’re gonna be broke.”
You want your child to feel secure in her home, and when she overhears you fighting about money, she may jump to some very dire conclusions. That doesn’t mean you should never discuss finances, but do it in a positive, age-appropriate way, says Heitler. “For older kids, it’s okay to have conversations about how to save money or cut back on expenses, but they need to know that you’re all in it together,” she says.
“You let our kids get away with everything.”
This just sets one parent against the other when it comes to discipline, and your child will learn to use that imbalance to play the more lenient parent against the stricter one, says Heitler.
“I can’t talk to you about this anymore!”
Slamming the door or giving your partner the silent treatment before you have a chance to resolve the issue is just as disturbing to children as verbal conflict, says Cummings. “Our research shows that when children see conflicts get resolved, they feel very positive emotions. They really benefit from seeing their parents compromise and listen to each other’s concerns.” If you’ve really reached a breaking point, try saying, “Let’s take a breather and talk about this again in a half hour.”