There are important things parents need to know about arguing in front of their kids. As parents, we try not to row in front of our children. Instinctively, we know they find it hard to cope when we’re at odds with one another, and they’re disturbed if our arguments become persistent or hostile. This is plain common sense.
But there’s some important new information that all guardians need to be aware of and it is the fact that unresolved conflict between parents has a potent influence on children’s early development, mental health and future life chances.
This is true whether the parents are together or apart. Having disagreements is normal, of course. What does the harm is the ‘unresolved’ part. Children need to know how arguments can be settled, allowing life to move on.
On-going conflict between parents can affect a child’s mental health, the development of their social and emotional skills, academic attainment – and can impact their ability to form future relationships. It can also damage their physical health, lasting through their adult lives and into the next generation. And it starts early.
Babies as young as six months show higher physiological symptoms of distress, such as an elevated heart rate, in response to overt exchanges between their parents, when compared to exchanges between adults who are not parents.
But children of all ages can be affected by destructive inter-parental conflict – outwardly through high levels of aggression, hostility and violence; inwardly through low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and, in extreme cases, suicidal feelings.