Is Chronic Parental Conflict Harmful to Children?
01/05/2018 at 8:42 pm #8148Genevieve SimperinghamKeymaster
This is a very difficult and stressful part of life for parents and children living with a lot of parental conflict. Hopefully this article has some helpful advice, perhaps validating your concerns about the effects on your child, perhaps offering some helpful tips on how to better manage the difficulties you’re facing. ~ Genevieve
“How is Chronic Parental Conflict Harmful to Children?
1. Negative Impact on Children’s Mental Health
What is very destructive psychologically for children is for them to experience their parents’ continuing, unresolved, hostile conflicts. Research indicates that children are resilient and highly adaptive in general and can usually cope with and adapt to difficult situations such as separation and divorce. What severely damages children emotionally is bitter, long-lasting, ongoing conflict between parents, whether the parents live together or not.
The longer parental conflict continues and the greater the tension between the parents, the greater the likelihood that psychological difficulties will result for children such as emotional and behavior problems, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, low self-esteem, school problems and a number of other difficulties.
2. Children Feel Unsafe
Chronic parental conflict creates a climate of tension, chaos, disruption and unpredictability in the family environment that is meant to be safe and secure and comfortable to grow up in. Children feel anxious, frightened, and helpless. They may worry about their own safety and their parents’ safety even if there has been no actual or threatened violence. Children’s imaginations are powerful and they may imagine harm coming to themselves or to one of their family members. If parents are still together there is also worry about divorce and the family being split up.
3. Children Worry About Taking Sides
Children worry that they have to take sides in the conflict. They generally want to please both parents but this becomes impossible and creates stress for children. Children become caught in the middle. Or they may align with one parent against the other, which can be very destructive and unhealthy for all family members.
4. Children Feel Guilty
Children often believe they are responsible for the fighting that goes on between their parents. This is especially true if children hear arguments related to different parenting styles, school issues, or financial issues related to them. This guilt from feeling responsible for their parents’ conflict causes much emotional distress for children.
5. Poor Role-Modeling for Children
Children learn lessons about how to get along with others from how their parents get along with each other. If parents only model unhealthy ways to communicate and resolve problems, most likely that is how their children will communicate and solve problems with others when they grow up to be adults.
6. Quality of Parenting Decreases
Chronic parental conflict increases stress on parents, which can result in the decreased use of effective parenting skills over time, with a resulting negative impact on the children.
7. Parent-Child Relationships May Suffer
In the absence of severe problems, it is healthy for children and they need to be allowed to develop a relationship with both parents regardless of how the parents feel about each other.
If a child constantly hears bad things about one parent from another parent, the danger is that the parent-child relationship of the criticized parent may weaken. This can also work in the opposite direction, since a child can resent a parent who criticizes and refuses to respect the other parent, especially as the child grows older.
What Can You Do About Chronic Parental Conflict?
1. Shield Your Child From Destructive Parental Conflict
It is important to protect and shield your child from being exposed to conflicts between you and your child’s other parent.
Verbal hostilities between parents can affect children in extremely negative ways. Your child should be shielded from hostile interactions that include the following: yelling and screaming; put-downs, name-calling and harsh criticism; blaming; mocking and sarcastic remarks; hostile and aggressive facial expressions; and threats of harm and intimidation. Be aware that phone conversations between parents can also get very hostile, your child needs to be shielded from these as well.
Of course, children should never be exposed to any physical violence such as parents throwing things or damaging things, or physical violence between parents such as grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting, kicking or any other form of physical assault. This is very damaging for children to be exposed to.
It is imperative that parents learn to restrain themselves and to control their emotions when the children are present or within hearing distance. This can be a very difficult task and may require professional help (see point number 8 below). Sensitive and difficult issues between parents should always be discussed at private meetings, or in the presence of others such as counsellors, mediators or lawyers if necessary.
2. Learn and Practice Healthy Communication Skills
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