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How does parental conflict affect kids?

Every married couple probably argues once in a while. However, arguments may happen with increased frequency and intensity in the time leading up to, during and just after divorce.

This is understandable since divorce can be such an emotional experience. However, when the divorcing spouses are also parents, those arguments can affect more than their divorce outcomes.

The effects can vary

Some research suggests kids between 6 months and 19 years old can be negatively impacted by parental conflict. The conflict can cause children to feel insecure, especially about the family’s stability. Parental conflict can also cause harm to a child by creating a stressful environment for the child or preventing the adults from parenting to the best of their abilities.

Sometimes these effects manifest in children as poor problem-solving skills, behavioral problems, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and substance use, among other problems. Sometimes a child will begin showing these negative effects immediately, while other times it can take several years.

Parents can protect their kids

It can be helpful to note that not all parental conflict causes these negative effects. Parental conflict is usually only harmful when it is hostile, intense or aggressive. Behaviors that could be harmful for a child to witness, include physical aggression, raised voices, verbal insults, the silent treatment and conflicts about the child.

Keeping arguments away from where a child will see or hear them can be a good strategy to protect him or her from the harm parental conflict can cause. Some other actions that can help protect your child, include:

  • Minimizing the potential for conflict with your ex by communicating via businesslike emails
  • Developing a parenting plan that minimizes direct contact between parents, but still serves your child’s best interests
  • Determining what process is most appropriate to settle future disagreements
  • Reassuring your child that both parents will always love him or her, even if you are ending your marriage with each other
  • Considering if your child may benefit from talking with a therapist

The time surrounding a divorce can be emotional for the entire family. However, it can be especially difficult for kids because they have very little control over the situation. Fortunately, parents who understand how their conflict could impact their kids can take the steps needed to minimize any potential negative outcomes their children experience.