Sandy Schoeneich 

Parental conflict in the home can be very taxing on children. For any child that has two parents/caregivers in the home, their only wish is that they get along and that there be no arguing or conflict between them. Of course, being a parent while also sustaining a partnership is no easy feat. It’s normal to become overwhelmed in life and have relational issues with your partner while managing a household and kids. If you have children in the home and also experience heightened conflict between you and your partner that the kids have observed, this blog post is for you. This post will review Kathy Eugster’s article, Chronic Parental Conflict: How it Can Be Harmful for Children, and discuss how you can reduce conflict in your home. 

First, it’s important to define what chronic parental conflict is. Chronic parental conflict is when two parents have an ongoing hostile emotional tone between them that continues to erupt over time and has similar patterns. Parents do not have healthy conflict resolution skills and the conflict never seems to get resolved. This harmful behavior between parents can range on an evolving spectrum; it can look like anything from criticizing, yelling, blaming, ignoring one another, derogatory comments, to actual physical violence that can look like anything from throwing things to physical aggression and contact between the parents.

How Parental Conflict is Harmful to Children

Constant or chronic parental conflict is, first and foremost, psychologically damaging for children. The continuous, bitter, unresolved tension between caregivers is what mentally and emotionally harms kiddos, and it doesn’t matter whether the parents live together or not. The longer the conflict endures and the greater the tension between the parents, the greater the likelihood that psychological difficulties will develop for kids. This can include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, poor emotion-regulation, school problems, and other difficulties. 

Another reason why chronic conflict is harmful for children is the lack of safety that it creates in the home. Home should be a place of safety and comfort for kids, but when there is constant tension and chaos due to parental hostility, home instead brings feelings of uneasiness, discomfort, and unpredictability in the family environment. Even if there is no actual threat for violence, children still worry about harm being done to them or their parents. 

Kids’ cognition is not fully yet developed, so they do not always understand why their parents argue or have conflict. Because of this, the first likely assumption that a child makes is that their parents are fighting because of them. Also, when parents have open conflict over differing parenting styles, school issues, or financial issues related to the children, this further perpetuates their belief that their parents’ arguing is their fault. This guilt causes severe emotional distress for kids. 

How to Reduce or Eliminate Chronic Parental Conflict in Your Home

Shield your child from the conflict

It is critical that you protect and shield your child(ren) from being exposed to conflicts between you and your partner/the other parent. Always be aware of where your children are in the home when tensions are rising, and avoid letting them see or hear any heightened conflict between you and the other parent. It is imperative that all parents learn how to restrain themselves and regulate their emotions when the kids are present or within hearing distance. This is often difficult to learn and put in practice, and may need additional support through therapy or through mediation. 

Learn and practice healthy communication skills

Healthy communication between parents starts with active listening, empathy, openly expressing thoughts and feelings to one another, problem solving, and negotiation and conflict resolution skills. These are difficult skills to acquire and practice in a romantics partnership, and likely even more difficult to have figured out in a parenting relationship. Seek professional help if this is an area in which you are struggling. If you can improve your communication skills between yourself and the other parent, you will notice improvement in your children’s overall well-being.

Give your child some information

Children need to know (just a little bit) about what is going on between the parents when they are having conflict. You can be honest with your child in a brief, reassuring manner – this will help them feel more safe and grounded in the home rather than if they were to have no idea as to why their caregivers are fighting. All you can say is that “we are having some disagreements but we are trying to figure it out”. This will let your child know that conflict does happen and that it can be resolved in a healthy way. 

Other tips:

 

  • Don’t criticize your partner/the other parent in front of your child(ren)
  • Don’t let your child take sides

     

  • Don’t confide in your children about the conflict

     

  • Seek professional help

Kathy Eugster’s article, Chronic Parental Conflict: How it Can Be Harmful for Children, was referenced for this post.