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How Parental Conflict Affects Children

It’s easy for adults to forget what it felt like to be children. And one of the most frequent things we see when this occurs is that adults think children don’t notice their surroundings. Married couples who endlessly fight think that their children don’t hear the yelling, notice the tension, or pick up on the subtle distance between mom and dad. Children are little, not stupid. Because they have little control over their environment, they may feel trapped when there are conflicts between their parents, and often struggle to articulate their emotions. Here’s what you need to know about how conflict affects your children.

Your Children Know

Children are keen readers of their parents’ emotions. Even if you manage to never fight, or even be cross, in front of your child, he or she will pick up on changes in your marriage. Whether it’s that mom and dad don’t spend as much time together, or observing that they’re just not as physically affectionate, don’t think you have your child fooled. Instead, your child is probably too anxious to bring up the conflict, for fear of upsetting you.

Divorce Is Not a Solution

Some parents embroiled in conflict think that by divorcing, they can save their children from the stress of endless parental conflict. Research consistently shows that, as long as there is no abuse in the home, divorce is actually a worse option for kids than parental conflict. Focus on doing what you can to fix your marriage. If you feel stuck or overwhelmed, consult Three Seas Counselling for relationship or marital counselling.

How Conflict Affects Kids

Watching parents fight affects children in myriad ways, including:

  • Increased anxiety, since your child might worry about what will happen next and whether the fighting is his or her fault.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Acting out at school or at home.
  • Poor relationship skills.
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Changes in eating habits.
  • Increased fearfulness, nightmares, or difficulty sleeping alone.
  • Hostility toward one or both parents.
  • Regressing to an earlier stage of development.
  • Aggression.

Fighting Constructively

Every relationship has conflict, and it’s a myth that you should not fight in front of your kids. Instead, what mattes is that your child sees you resolving conflict in a loving way. Try calmly talking to one another when your kids are in the room, so your child can overhear you resolving conflict. If you can’t manage to do this, it’s time to seek counselling—and in the meantime, reserve your conflicts for when your children are not home.

Offering Reassurance

Some parents are reticent to talk to their children about conflict, fearing that these conversations incite fear rather than minimising it. But children need reassurance from their parents. Bring up the topic, and encourage your child to share his or her feelings and ask questions. Some strategies to try include:

  • Telling your child that the conflict has nothing to do with him or her, and that you will work to resolve the conflict.
  • Asking what you can do to help your child feel safer.
  • Reassuring your child that everyone, even grown-ups who love each other very much, fights sometimes.
  • Offering to give your child an adult to talk to, such as a counsellor at Three Seas.

If you’re struggling to talk to your child about conflict in your family, let us help. We can help you craft an age appropriate solution to help your child better understand what’s happening while finding healthy ways to manage conflict. We can also help you and your spouse get back on track.