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Parental Conflicts & Their Damaging Effects on Children

By Monica Crowe ; Updated June 13, 2017

Every married couple argues from time to time about money, sex, how to raise the children and other issues, but doing so in front of the kids is not OK. Studies have shown that discord among parents can cause a host of negative reactions in children, some that might follow them through their adult lives. Marital conflict is not only relegated to shouting matches, however, and there are some claims that even ignoring your spouse might negatively affect your children.

Hostility and Indifference

E. Mark Cummings, a University of Notre Dame professor of psychology, and researchers from Rochester University and the Catholic University of America learned that the way in which parents handle conflict affects children's future emotional adjustment. A negative home environment can instill emotional insecurity and adjustment problems for the long haul. The research was published in the January/February 2006 edition of the journal "Child Development." During the study, researchers identified two conflicts which affect children most -- hostility and indifference. Because the study used “representative community samples,” the researchers believe that their findings are true for most American families.

Emotional Instability

Behaviors present in children who witness marital strife include acting out, turning inward and an inability to interact well with others. These children have low self-esteem, poor social skills and dysfunctional relationships in their adult years. Some children become increasingly angry, but lack the coping skills to manage their feelings, so instead exhibit violent behavior, delinquency and even gang involvement. Children who turn their feelings inward often become depressed and isolated from friends and social activities. Sometimes they turn to drugs, or may suffer from frequent headaches, stomach aches and ulcers.

Academic Performance

Instability in the home can even impact children's academic performance. Due to stress hormones, brain functioning can be altered when a child is exposed over time to conflict. This might lead to impaired thinking, lack of problem-solving and reasoning skills, and memory problems. Moreover, findings from a 2005 Cardiff University South Wales Family Study propose that children from negative family environments have a greater risk for poor academic performance than those from loving two-parent homes.

Violence in the Home

In homes where physical abuse takes place, children may suffer dysfunctions such as bed wetting, learning disabilities, recurrent nightmares, headaches, stomach aches, ulcers and more. One of two emotional conditions are found in children from homes of marital abuse; they either learn to fight or they learn to keep the peace. Children who witness repeated negative conflict solutions often believe that what they see is normal and become fighters themselves, bullying children on the playground or trying to exert control over others. Other children realize that physical violence is not normal and do anything to avoid conflict, becoming passive and unassertive. These children are willing to do anything to keep the peace.

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