Parents' Fighting May Have Ongoing Effect on Children

Fighting in front of children
Children whose parents fought with each other regularly and cruelly were more likely to grow into emotionally unconfident older children who struggled with behavior, anxiety and depression issues by seventh grade, the study authors found.

Yet, the researchers said, not all conflict was wearisome to children. If parents refrained from harshly disparaging one other, stonewalling one another or being violent with one another & instead managed to work out their problems in a positive way, children were not terribly bothered by the conflicts.

The study authors said that the key to keeping children well-adjusted is not having a perfect, conflict-free marriage. It is in being able to control emotions enough to fight fair, & resolve conflicts in a way that does not threaten the stability of the family, they clarified.

Study author E. Mark Cummings, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., said,” Problems happen every day. But if they come up with a resolution or work toward it, if parents problem solve & try to work it out, if they say nice things to each other or are affectionate, if the parents show optimistic emotion when they are in the middle of fighting, children see all these things as very positive, and it changes how children see the conflict”.

For fighting Kids feel aloneWhen the kids were in nursery school, parents were asked about their level of marital clash. Parents were also asked to discuss a potentially controversial topic, such as parenting or finances, while researchers rated how critical they were of their partner.

The kids were then followed-up with 7 years later, when they were in seventh grade. During that time, thirty six couples separated or divorced and 2 fathers died. Children & their parents were again asked about a host of issues around emotional health & behavior.  

According to the findings, children whose parents fought the most when the child was in play school felt less emotionally secure, or felt less protected and safe. Emotional insecurity included things for example whether the kids were upset or acted out for instance through hitting or aggression during the clash, or if the children reported they felt distressed by their parental fights, Cummings said.

Children who were less emotionally secure had more mental health issues for example symptoms of anxiety & depression, as well as behavioral problems.

Cummings said that studies dating reverse to the 1920s have found that marital conflict can impact children. This research tried to get at what aspects of clash are the most damaging.

He also said, “Conflict affects kids by affecting their sense of emotional security about the family. A child has logic of security or well-being, and if they do not have that they feel distressed sensitively, are more prone to hostility & aggression. Parents face all sorts of stress, & fighting is normal. However parents need to remember that their children are listening & watching.

Kids can cry facing parent's fighting Cummings said, "Conflict is piece of life. If you do not always agree with your spouse, it is fine, as long as you can work it out constructively. A lot of people do not realize how much kids are affected by the affiliation between the parents, not just the affiliation of the parents to the kids. Children’s feelings about themselves & their family have to do with how the parents relate to each other in addition to the child."

Whereas the study uncovered an association between emotional securities & inter parental conflict in children, it didn’t prove a cause-&-effect relationship.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental & behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, said it is not surprising that conflict between parents is not good for children's emotional health.
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