Inter-parental conflict directly affects a child. Researchers from the University of Arizona held a new study on how children get affected by the way parents handle disagreements. They concluded that children feel safer when parents handle conflict calmly and maturely. On the other hand, those who handle conflict with violence and anger tend to make their kids feel insecure.
One of the researchers, Olena Kopystynksa, stated in the report that children could notice behavioral changes in how parents relate with each other. She said that the confidence and security of a child are determined by how parents express their emotions and how they handle life problems. Kopystynksa added that a child as young as three years old could pick up on little nuances of how parents behave add could perceive that the environment is unsafe.
The researchers looked at the constructive and destructive methods of managing conflict at home and how children’s emotional security get affected by different parenting styles. The study’s report was based on findings from the Building Strong Families Project that accommodates mostly poverty-stricken families. This population was ideal for the study considering the high probability of conflict due to many stressors that come with financial instability.
Researchers started by focusing on households with children under the age of three years. They looked at how the children reacted emotionally to conflict management behaviors. They concluded that there were four types of parents:
– Both argued constructively
– Both argued destructively
– Mother was constructive but father destructive
– Father was constructive but mother destructive
The main factor that stood out in the study is the difference between fathers’ parenting styles after a conflict as compared to mothers. The study found out that fathers managed to relate with their children normally across all profiles. On the other hand, however, mothers who handle conflict destructively and fathers constructive tend to become harsh on their children after a disagreement. The study concluded that children felt emotionally secure if one of the parents was constructive.
Researchers also found that despite the assumption that low-income families were more likely to display dysfunctional behaviors, some of the parents that participated in the study were ‘completely destructive.’ Kopystynksa said that this was the case because destructive couples were likely to separate and would not live together. She added that for this reason, their children were less likely to be exposed to conflict.
Kopystynksa says that children are most likely to have similar conflict management behaviors as their parents when they grow up and face conflicts of their own. She added, however, that exposure to the inter-parental conflict could be beneficial since it is unlikely for children to avoid conflict in the future. Kopystynksa said that conflict is not entirely bad, and it only depends on how parents handle it.
Alyson Schafer, a parenting expert, said that the findings did not surprise her. According to her, every parent has the responsibility of teaching a child how conflict is managed, and it starts by setting a good example for them. She said that though conflict is a part of our daily lives, parents should understand that children learn from them.
Some parents may not see how inter-parental conflict management affects their child. Schafer said that since children are developmentally egocentric, they tend to interpret conflict differently. She said that kids often think that they are the cause of conflict and that their family is likely to break.
Schafer advises parents to consider their children’s emotional well- being when dealing with life problems. She says that parents should not argue in the presence of a child and should make time for discussing contentious issues privately.