Conflict is a normal part of everyday life especially when there are so many different personalities, schedules, likes and dislikes.
The aim of this post is not to point the finger or to make people feel guilty. It’s a bit of self-disclosure if anything.
I have definitely been guilty of arguing with my husband in front of my son and it can just happen so easily. I’ve also seen the negative effect that it has directly had on him.
Casual unimportant issues that we might butt heads on have been explored in the presence of our son with no great concern and it totally backfired time and time again. It’s something we’ve had to really change and, like many parents, I had no idea that it could have such a big impact on our child.
So how much does it affect our children? According to psychologists the fact that parents fight is not the problem. The issue is how it is expressed, resolved and how that affects the children in the house. Conflict is a normal part of everyday life especially when there are so many different personalities, schedules, likes and dislikes. The reality, however, is that the way conflict is expressed can have a hugely negative effect on our children’s development.
Every child is different so there is no general rule but there is no denying the basic fact that being immersed in regular conflict will not have a positive effect on our children. Some children respond with huge levels of anxiety as they continuously worry about both of their parents. They may experience regular tummy aches and miss a lot of school due to an illness that is actually associated with anxiety. Their sleep and eating pattern is affected greatly by the level of anxiety and worry they are experiencing. This can lead to them being more vulnerable to feeling run down and experiencing bugs and infections.
While at school this level of stress can make it very difficult for your child to pay attention or absorb the information they are being taught. This can have a huge effect on their academic development and how they progress during their schooling years. Parents may never see the link between the conflict and their child’s struggles with school work but it can have a lasting effect on them.
The way your child approaches friendships and relationships can be hugely shaped by the way they experience conflict in the home. They learn how to communicate by noticing the way their parents do so. That becomes their normal. It can drastically affect the way they respond to any kind of upset or frustration. For example, if a child or teacher does not give your child a desirable answer or response they may instantly respond by raising their voice and shouting because that is the learnt behaviour that they have witnessed at home. In their world that is how you react when things are not going your way.
This can pose huge issues for their ability to form friendships and meaningful relationships as well as complications regarding the way they respond to figures of authority. The relationship problems can also happen within the family home environment. Siblings can become estranged and distanced from each other in some cases and in other cases overly protective of each other.
Children are extremely good at detecting emotions. For this reason, conflict can be obvious to them even when voices are not being raised. They can pick up on subtle levels of conflict due to the tension in the room or in the house. They can also tell when you are pretending to resolve conflict purely due to their presence. They have the ability to be able to tell the difference between a real resolution and that which has been forced. In many cases, it can lead to a greater worry as they try to figure out the truth behind what is really going on.
This is not to say that no conflict should ever happen in front of the kids. If a child sees their parents positively resolve the conflict they can actually benefit from it on many levels. They can learn a lot about negotiation and compromise for example.
As a general rule if conflict happens in the vicinity of your children it is important to give the benefit of the doubt and choose your battles are often as possible. If the conflict is unavoidable it is a good idea to aim to respond with empathy and word things in the kindest possible way.
Tracey is a happy mammy to four-year-old Billy. She is a breastfeeder, gentle parent and has recently lost five stone so healthy family eating is her passion! You can find her at www.loveofliving.ie.