Parental Conflict Has Proven Effect on Children – Even When They Are Asleep

It is no big secret that conflict in the home is associated with a host of negative behavioral and life outcomes for children. In fact, some studies have gone so far as to suggest that dissolving a high conflict marriage is better for children than exposing them to high levels of conflict in a contentious marriage. A recent study published in Psychological Science showed that infants who came from homes with lots of conflict, where the parents yelled at one another and called each other unpleasant names, showed heightened brain activity in certain areas of the brain in response to angry tones of voice. The affected brain regions include those that are thought to be important later in life for an individual’s ability to regulate his emotions and function well. Although it is not immediately apparent what the actual long-term effect may be, the message may be quite simple: children are listening. Even when they are asleep.

Furthermore, when children are present, it is important for parents to refrain from involving their children in their disputes. Even little jabs and small criticisms can be harmful to children because they identify with their parents and interpret negative characterizations as also aimed at them. If arguing in front of the children is unavoidable, experts say that apologizing to children for fighting in front of them can help regain a sense of security and stability in the family home. Non-verbal cues, such as positive physical interaction between parents after the feud, can help do damage control.

Takeaway: If you desire to reduce the level of conflict in your home without dissolving your relationship, consider one of the many organizations in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area that offer parenting classes to help couples facilitate their communication with one another in a positive manner.

Study information courtesy of NPR News, http://www.npr.org.