How conflict between parents affects children


Disagreements and conflicts are inherent in human relationships and are therefore common in the family environment.

In the collective imagination, the concept of conflict has negative connotations. Yet, disagreeing and having different opinions on any issue can be an opportunity to learn, grow or improve situations and, therefore, have constructive and rewarding consequences.

For this, it is a question that the disagreement does not turn into an aggressive confrontation. When opinions are transmitted in a violent or disrespectful way, they cease to be part of a positive process and become harmful and destructive.

Reactive mechanisms

When couples have children, these, especially if they are minors, are affected by the harmful effects of the conflicts, which are more harmful to them than to their parents. There is a vast literature on these negative impacts of parental conflict on children, from toddlers to adolescents.

Whether the parents live together or are separated, scientific work shows that parental conflict is a factor that strongly affects the physical and psychological health of children. This reality has led professionals and scientists from different fields (mainly psychiatry, psychology, pediatrics and education) to consider the constant exposure of children to parental conflict as a constitutive process of child abuse.

Parents have not always been socialized to resolve disagreements amicably. On the contrary, the achievements of their experience lead them to activate reactive mechanisms of defense and attack, especially in the face of stressful events, such as the loss of a job, the lack of economic resources, the presence of an illness serious in a family member, the problematic adolescence of a child, the breakdown of a couple, etc.

Unfortunately, this leads to more confrontational dynamics among parents, more arguments and confrontations, which reduces their ability to nurture healthy emotional relationships with each other and their children, as well as positive co-parenting. This aggravates and reinforces the stress within the family.

Bad example and accumulated stress

Couple arguments where emotional control is lacking exacerbate confrontation and cause problems to increase in number and intensity. They inevitably end up harming the functioning of the family and the well-being of the children, all the more so when they take place in their presence.

This causes stress in children, with adverse consequences on their personal system and functioning, affecting their physiological, cognitive and behavioral systems.

In addition, they lead to a lack of trust in the family as support at all levels, including psychologically. This last point puts pre-adolescents and adolescents in particular danger.

Ten years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned that the lack of adequate family relationships was a predictor of maladjustment and poor health in children and adolescents.

Generally speaking, in children, conflict involves both internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Although they vary by age and gender, internalizing symptoms include anxiety and depressive symptoms, somatic symptoms, distress, and fears. Externalizing symptoms include tantrums, disrespect, regressive behaviors, disruptive, violent and criminal behaviors and substance use.

Emotional control is learned

Discussions between parents, when conducted with emotional control, kindness, understanding, dignity and legitimacy, and with strict respect for each other’s opinions, do not affect children, and can even increase their sense of security and well-being within the family. At the same time, they can be a learning of great importance for their socio-emotional development and their performance.

In this sense, among the basic needs of children and adolescents, it is emphasized that in families there must be assertive communication styles, that the respectful exchange of information and the non-violent approach to conflicts must be favoured.

It is the right of children to be respected so that they can live in an environment that promotes the proper development of their personality, their well-being and their happiness. Therefore, responsible parenting requires that children enjoy a positive home environment , which undoubtedly requires their parents to manage and resolve conflicts positively and avoid inappropriate arguments.

Parents need to be aware of how their arguments can harm their children in order to avoid exposing them to it and, if they lack the skills to manage positive conflict resolution, they should seek support for them. to acquire.

Author Bio: Francisca Farina Rivera is Professor of Basic Psychology and Legal Psychology of Minors at the University of Vigo