Children are all affected differently when relationships break down and family conflicts arise. The impact on children may be very obvious, whilst other children survive seemingly unaffected.
New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals why some children are badly affected by negative family conflicts while other children survive without significant problems.
How children perceive conflict between their parents will differ. Children will be affected emotionally by witnessing or being part of these conflicts and may well display symptoms of depression or display certain changes in behavior which are often negative. Children are likely to blame themselves for the conflict between their parents as they do not understand what is really going on and often feel their loyalties are divided as they do not want to be seen to be favour one parent over the other. They will not want to cause either parent upset or disappointment for not being on their side and may well say different things to each parent in an attempt to please them both. If children blame themselves for the breakdown of the relationship and conflicts that arise they are more likely to display emotional and behavioural problems.
Children witnessing their parents physically fighting or being verbally abusive may lead to a child being concerned or distressed about adult issues and make them feel threatened or fearful of the future. They may attempt to take the role of protecting one parent they feel is at risk of harm or upset. Children witnessing these incidents often feel isolated and have difficulty talking to others about their feelings and are more likely to experience severe emotional consequences, such as depression or self-harming.
Many parents become so entrenched in their own conflicts that they are unable or unwilling to consider the impact their conflict can have on others, in particular children. The impact on the children and how that is displayed depends of the level of the conflict or dispute which can include hostile relationships between parents, children being brought into disputes, parental alienation, poor parenting practices, negative parent-child relationships and maternal depression.
Research shows that “Children exposed to everyday conflicts between their parents – conflicts that are non-violent, but frequent, intense and poorly resolved – are at elevated risk for mental health problems, even when we consider poor parenting practices or genetic susceptibility factors passed on from parents to children, in explaining the effects of hostile relationships on children.”
“Importantly, children may not actually be responsible for their parents’ relationship problems. Rather, they simply need to feel or perceive that they are responsible in order to experience negative psychological outcomes,”
To reduce conflict and the risk of children witnessing inappropriate adult conflicts, parents should try to resolve matters as amicably as possible with as little disruption to the family.
At Sousa Law we focus on amicable solutions where possible, avoiding conflict and the subsequent risk to any children involved. We promote all forms of resolution outside of the court process to reduce costs and acrimony.