No one would be surprised to learn that kids suffer when their parents argue. Still, detailed research on exactly how kids are affected and which aspects of parental conflict are most harmful can help families and communities to address the problem effectively. Parental Conflict: Outcomes and interventions for children and families, a short volume from the UK think tank One Plus One coauthored by four researchers, offers an accessible but detailed overview of scholars' findings on these subjects. Here are some highlights of the research they present.
Which aspects of parental conflict matter?
There is no such thing as a relationship entirely free from conflict and disagreement, and surely all children see their parents argue at one time or another. When parents relate to each other calmly and positively even during a disagreement, solve the problem together, and show children through their subsequent interactions that the conflict has been resolved, then the children may be unaffected (and a small body of research suggests they may even learn conflict-resolution skills, which they can apply to their own relationships down the road, from such situations).
Parental conflict is harmful to kids, however, when it is frequent; when it is heated and hostile, involving verbal insults and raised voices; when parents become physically aggressive; when parents withdraw from an argument or give each other the silent treatment; when the conflict seems to threaten the intactness of the family; and when it's about the child. (The impact of witnessing domestic violence on kids is not explored in detail in this book, but of course it too has been shown to be very harmful.) And conflict is harmful regardless of whether parents are married or even living together.
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