The Effects of Conflict
The High Price Your Children Pay

The effects of conflict on children are well-documented. Family researchers generally agree that parental conflict is the biggest predictor of poor outcome for children. The most powerful determinants are the level and intensity of the conflict between parents, and whether the conflict is resolved. This is true no matter whether parents are married or divorced.

Summary of the Research on the Effects of Conflict

  • Some children respond to parental conflict by acting out. They may demonstrate behavior problems, increased anger and inability to manage anger, violent behavior, delinquency, and gang involvement.

  • Some children respond to parental conflict by turning inward. They are likely to demonstrate depression (we are prescribing anti-depressants for children at an alarming rate), isolation from friends and activities, physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, ulcers etc., and substance abuse.

  • Children who are exposed to parental conflict do not interact well with others. These kids often have very poor social skills, low self esteem and poor relationships when they become adults.

  • Some children exposed to high conflict have trouble thinking. Advances in neuropsychology have shown that when exposed to conflict our brains release stress hormones that over time can actually change brain functioning. Scary stuff! The effects of being exposed to conflict show up as problems in school, truancy, impaired thinking (things like problem-solving, abstract reasoning, memory are affected) and symptoms that mimic Attention Deficit Disorder.

Parental conflict is toxic for kids. It's as simple as that. And as scary. No parents in their right mind would knowingly dose their kids with a bit of poison each day. And yet, parents who fight in front of their children do just that. Are you getting the picture that the effects of conflict for children are huge?

The most powerful action divorcing parents can take to protect their children is to pledge not to expose them to adult arguments. In fact, here's an exercise to bring this important concept home. The next time you are about to get into an argument with the other parent, do this. Take out a photograph of your children or just create a mental picture of your kids. Look at those sweet, innocent faces and repeat the following:

"I know that what I am about to do is damaging to you and is likely to affect you forever. But at this moment, indulging my anger is more important than your well being."

Yikes! Who wants to say or do that to their children? Yet, when we fight with the other parent in front of our kids, in essence our actions say to our kids, "I don't care how you feel about this."

One way to counter the negative effects of conflict on children is to learn to fight differently. It's called fair fighting and it's all laid out on this page. It may take a bit of time to learn to work on solving a problem instead of trying to win at all costs. But the results will be so well worth your effort. Your kids need this from you almost more than anything else.

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