By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
Parents are the core. Their relationship is vital to the success and health of everyone in the family – especially the children. Too often parents get so caught up in their parental roles that they neglect their roles as significant partners, neglecting the relationship that inspired their family. There has been enormous research on the effects of divorce on children – both short and long term – but what about the impact on our children when parents are experiencing conflict with each other? How does that affect our children? Interestingly enough, when fathers are affected by parental conflict the effect on their children is pretty significant.
A study published in the November/December 2006 issue of Child Development examined the effects on children when parents fight. One major finding was when fathers feel their spouses pulling away from them – withdrawing – their parenting is negatively affected and has a greater impact on their children. Fathers tend to become more emotionally unavailable to their children when in conflict with their partners, and when they are emotionally unavailable, their children become more anxious, depressed and withdrawn and also exhibit more aggressive and delinquent behavior and have more trouble adjusting to school.
This is just one small example of the negative impact of parental conflict on children. It is important to remember that not only do our children watch how we fight and what we fight about, they experience the effects of that fight with our significant others. Many parents try to have their fights and important discussions when their children are not around. While it is important for our children to see us work out our differences, there is obvious value in having these important conversations out of their earshot. However, what studies like this demonstrate is that just because the argument took place out of their earshot doesn’t mean that they are unaffected by it. Our moods before and after an argument can deeply impact our children.
There are two major things you can try to do to limit the negative impact on your children while you and your partner are in conflict:
- Sooner is better than later: If you feel there is an issue that needs to be addressed with your partner, do so as quickly as possible. The more upset you are, the more frustrated and/or resentful you become will affect your behavior and your mood which, in turn, affects your children.
- Closure: As best as you can try to obtain closure on the conflict; try to reach some sort of agreement or compromise or common understanding of each other’s perspectives so the fight does not linger on for extended periods of time.
Seeing their parents in a state of conflict has a negative impact on children, but how we as parents respond to and deal with these conflicts also has a significant effect on them. The quicker and more effectively we can resolve our conflicts with each other, the more we can limit the negative impact on our children.