New Research Offers Insights Into Ways Family Conflict Can Affect Kids Backed by 100+ Years' Experience

New Research Offers Insights Into Ways Family Conflict Can Affect Kids

A recent UK study found that some children exposed to parental fighting develop behavioral or emotional problems while others do not.

Most parents who are going through a divorce in Orange County, California, worry about how the divorce will affect their children. Even before important issues like custody and level of child support come up, however, the changing dynamic in the relationship between parents can have profound impacts on children. It is important for parents to understand these effects as well as the steps that they can take to shield their children.

Conflict Causes Many Emotional Issues

It's not hard to imagine that children who are involved in family conflicts may experience emotional issues or other problems later, since they aren't growing up in the most supportive environment. Many parents don't realize, though, that even children who just observe conflict between their parents may experience emotional issues later.

A UK study founded by the Economic and Social Research Council reported in May that some children who witness parental fighting develop behavioral or emotional problems, while others are unaffected. The difference is based on how the child perceives the parental conflict as well as his or her role in it.

Children who felt responsible for the conflicts often developed behavioral problems, while those who felt frightened or insecure because of them tended to develop emotional problems. Overall, children exposed to more parental fighting were simply at a higher risk of having mental health problems later.

It's widely believed that parents should avoid fighting in front of their children during a divorce, and afterward when sharing custody, so that they can present a united front and not worry or confuse their children. It's also common knowledge that the process of divorce is upsetting and unsettling for children. Still, many parents might not realize that their kids' future mental or emotional health can be affected just by witnessing conflict.

Shielding Children Is Important

Divorce obviously causes strong emotions and gives parents many things to worry about, but it is important that they make the effort to protect their children from the worst parts of the process. The National Association of School Psychologists has suggested the following areas to focus on:

  • Don't actively involve your children in the conflict.
  • Carry on discussions away from your children.
  • Avoid complaining to your children or confiding in them.
  • Don't burden or overwhelm your children by treating them like adults.

It is possible for children to come through divorce relatively unscathed; the NASP reports that four out of five children of divorced parents become emotionally adjusted and succeed as adults. However, parents generally have to take an active role in helping their children through the transition and maintaining a safe, supportive environment, rather than fostering stress and insecurity through open conflict.

If you are preparing for a divorce or already in the process, it's crucial that you speak with a lawyer to ensure that you find the best arrangement for your children while defending your own rights.

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