How Parental Conflicts Affects Your Kids

by Khadija MAWHOUB

Conflicts occur in the best families – that is the beautiful saying. And it is true, not everyone agrees and the scraps sometimes fly.

But what many parents underestimate is that relationship disputes can have serious consequences for the development of their kids . and it is the result of numerous studies that have been carried out on this subject worldwide in recent years.

The Negative Effects of Parental conflicts

The feeling of security and thus the emotional stability of the children are closely linked to the parents’ relationship. The parental conflict would deprive children of the courage and confidence to look around the world and make new bonds. At least that was the conclusion of two studies in which 226 and 232 families with children were examined.
In the following years the topic was further researched worldwide. And the result was almost always: Frequent and violent disputes between mothers and fathers have negative effects on the mental health of children. For example, children from very quarrel-intensive families seem to have adjustment difficulties more often – they behave aggressively or withdraw more and more. In addition, studies showed a higher risk of later relationship problems, unemployment, depression or substance abuse in children from highly controversial families.

Young Children are Particularly at Risk

Young children in particular are at risk from the potential effects of parental conflict. Babies and toddlers feel hostility but cannot understand why and cannot predict the consequences of parental conflict. 

You just notice something is wrong – and that increases uncertainty. Later, the uncertainty eventually turns into fear that the parents may separate, the family will break up. And so children with disputed parents see themselves repeatedly responsible for mediating between mom and dad or having to choose a side. 

Anyone can imagine what that means for the little ones. Especially when mom or dad let out the anger and disappointment about the other at the child and scold: “Your father … / your mother …”

Learn How To Dispute

Yes and no. At least in babies and toddlers, parents should avoid resolving their conflicts in front of the children if possible. In this context, it is also important not to let the children feel that there is still something unclear in the air. From a certain age, however, this is no longer possible so easily and the children feel that an ideal world is only being played for them. 

From about primary school age onward, children are able to understand that conflicts between parents can occur from time to time, without any argument affecting the relationship between the two. The prerequisite for this is that the parents argue fairly and work on a constructive conflict resolution . That means:

  • In a dispute, it should always be factual! Conflicts in which the parents personally insult and devalue have been shown to have a significantly negative impact on the well-being of the child and are taboo, regardless of age.
  • The parents should work together and actively to resolve the conflict and not let it go unresolved.
  • In general, disputes should be conducted in a calm tone. It can get loud at times – after all, emotions are involved – as long as the discussion remains factual.
  • Children should know the end of the dispute – either because they are present when the conflict is resolved or by explaining what has been agreed afterward. Because: A well-resolved argument leaves a child who is just as relaxed as if there had been no argument at all, according to a study by Prof. Mark Cummings quoted at the beginning.
  • A long-term solution or compromise should urgently be found for issues that are constantly debated. If necessary, help from a family counseling center should be sought.

In addition, the following applies: Children are to be kept out of mere relationship disputes between father and mother! Parents should not dump their anger on the child and talk badly about the other parent. This is an absolute no-go because firstly, annoyances and insults do nothing to help resolve conflicts. Secondly, such pejorative comments about the other parent leave deep traces in the child’s soul – after all, he loves both.

Children Can Also Learn From Conflicts

If the parents adhere to the above rules of dispute, children can also learn a lot from conflicts within the family. How to argue correctly, for example, or which strategies are available to find a solution to a problem together. 

They learn that sometimes it is necessary to compromise, but also how to express your own position on a topic without devaluing the other. They also learn that an argument does not mean the end of a good relationship, but that after an argument you can always find each other again and emerge stronger.

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