Parental Conflict; How does it affect the kids? 

Though disagreements between parents are normal, continuous parental conflict can negatively affect children’s mental, social, emotional, and educational development. Let’s take a look at how it affects kids and where you can get help..

Introduction

What does parental conflict entail, and how does it affect the kids? Parents argue, just like siblings, friends, and acquaintances. But when those arguments turn into yelling, fighting, or volatile behavior, there is a real problem within the home that must be addressed. Fighting between parents not only affects the grown-up’s relationship, but also affects the parent child relationship and can lead to negative developmental outcomes.

parental conflict, family relationships
Parental conflict can lead to negative developmental outcomes for children – so it’s important to either seek help for the conflict or for the relationship as a whole

Why does parental conflict affect kids in a negative way?

Parental conflict can affect kids in a negative way because it creates an uncomfortable environment in the home, thus generating an atmosphere that is unsuitable for learning and growing. Being raised in a loving home where spouses show affection and devotion to each other sets a precedent for the children in the home.

Even hearing parents argue can be positive because it shows that parents can disagree but also respect and love one another. However, “when parents experience difficulties regulating their emotions around their children, they are setting a bad example and are forcing their children to be surrounded by negativity.” We as parents are the ultimate examples for our children. If they’re seeing a particular behavior or emotion occurring over and over, they’re likely going to follow in those footsteps. https://www.moms.com/high-conflict-families-affect-children-development/

How does parental conflict affect children?

Parental conflict affects children negatively in numerous ways.

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“High levels of conflict and animosity between parents places children at a greater risk of developing emotional, social and behavioural problems, as well as having difficulties with concentration and educational achievement.”

fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pubs/conflict-effects-children

For one, their education may decline, as they’re unable to study or focus on homework when parents are arguing. This can also lead to sleep deprivation either due to noise or nervousness, which can have a major effect on a child’s behavior and mood. Another reason why parental conflict negatively affects kids is that it can make children doubt their worth and blame themselves, especially if the parents are arguing about them, which is harmful for children’s mental health.

The article Reducing Parental Conflict: the impact on children lists potential risks for children experiencing parental conflict:

  • problems with school and learning
  • negative peer relationships (such as Bullying behaviour)
  • physical health problems
  • smoking and substance misuse
  • mental health and wellbeing challenges

Also included are possible effects when these children grow into young adults: poor relationships, poor family relationships, reduced academic attainment, lower employability, heightened interpersonal violence, and depression and anxiety.

parental conflict, developmental outcomes
Children learn so much from us! From the way we manage conflict, to how we handle our own emotions

Why does parental conflict affect some kids worse than others?

Professor Gordon Harold, in his article How Parents’ Arguments Really Affect Their Children for BBC News, writes, “Research suggests that boys and girls may also respond differently, with girls at greater risk of emotional problems, and boys at greater risk of behavioral problems.”

Harold also noted that the reason why parental conflict may affect some kids worse than others is how children perceive or understand their parents’ arguments. If children believe they are to blame for their parents arguing, they may begin to exhibit anti-social behavior. If children don’t feel safe or are afraid their parents are going to split up, they may exhibit emotional problems such as depression. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130508092835.htm

Is there a difference between high parental conflict and family violence?

Yes, there is a difference between high parental conflict and family violence.

“The key difference between parental conflict and family violence is the use of power and control.”

fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pubs/conflict-effects-children

Parental conflict is when parents argue and possibly yell, but they don’t try to exert control over one another. There is no fear that the argument will turn violent and mean. They don’t try to use coercion or force. Family violence, however, uses coercion, power, and force to dominate over the other parent. Domestic abuse is a child protection matter – you can read more about Child Protection in my article HERE.

parental conflict, child's mental health
Arguing is normal in most relationships, but it’s best to not argue in front of the children

How does parental conflict affect kids in a co-parenting arrangement?

Parental conflict can affect kids in a co-parenting arrangement both negatively and positively. Often, right after parents separate or divorce, parental conflict is heightened. Who gets the kids? For how long? Who is paying child support? These questions plus many more add stress to an already tense situation.

The good news is that “the level of conflict between parents usually reduces significantly in the first two to three years after separation.” https://www.fcfcoa.gov.au/fl/pubs/conflict-effects-children There is a positive impact in the home when parents are no longer living together because they are no longer arguing on a regular basis.

A negative impact is if parents continue to squabble even after separation and bring their children into the mix. Continuing parental conflict in these situations includes using the child to get information over their parents or demeaning the other parent when they’re not around.

The most important thing to remember in these situations is that the health and well-being of the kids should come first. Sometimes that is more easily said than done, and I have experienced terrible conflict with my ex (Andy’s father), even after separation.

You can read more about Co-Parenting, including the struggles I experienced, and my tips on how to co-parent successfully in my article HERE.

parental conflict, family fight
There are many places you can seek help for relationship issues or unresolved conflict – see below..

Where can parents seek help for parental conflict?

There are ways to reduce parental relationship distress. Kathy Hardie-Williams, author of article The Insidious Impact of Parental Conflict on Child Behavior, gives advice for what parents can do to promote healthy conflict resolutions.

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These include:

  • actively listening to one another
  • not arguing in front of the kids
  • if a discussion becomes too intense then take a break and come back to it
  • make sure the children know they are not the problem
  • come up with possible solutions together

Hardie-Williams stresses, “Ideally, parents should be open to seeking help from a professional, as getting input from an objective third party who is trained to help resolve conflict can be beneficial in identifying ineffective resolution strategies that parents may be engaging in.”

There is also the Family Relationship Advice Line where parents can access facts, advice, and contact information to help them move forward in a positive direction. https://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/

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You can also seek help from:

Relationships Australia

Interrelate.org

Lifeline

Summary

As previously mentioned, parental conflict is more than just an argument here or there or a lively debate over supper. Parental conflict affects children’s daily lives and can also lead to problems later in life. If parents are unhappy, usually the children are unhappy. Resolving conflict is essential for your child’s mental health, for your own mental health outcomes and for improved family life in general.

Having the support of your partner reduces stress and tension and cultivates your children’s relationship with both parents, providing emotional security. Children learn so much from their parents’ parenting practices as well as the way they manage conflict resolution; that alone needs to be forefront in our minds as we navigate parenting and raising our children the best way we know how.

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