The Effect Of Parental Conflict On Children

Happy childhood and its memories can get marred for a child because of parental conflicts. Parental conflicts can deeply affect a child. And the effects of a bad relationship between parents can stay with a child for an entire lifetime. And not just stay, it is likely to also affect the relationships that the child would form in his or her life later. It is natural for two people who live together to disagree on things and fight sometimes. But the intensity of a fight can hit the rooftop when those two people are incapable of handling themselves like adults in a fight. The effect of such a fight can be terrible on everyone, but especially so on a child.

E. Mark Cummings, a psychologist at the Notre Dame University says, “children are like an emotional Geiger counter.” This is an astute explanation for children who witness parental tension daily. Children can be very sensitive and perceptive in such situations. They can sense the tension when things are out of the ordinary in their homes. Stability and sense of safety are important for children to feel secure in their homes. But conflicts between parents can take that sense away from them. According to Cummings, conflicts are a part of everyone’s life, but the problem arises when we fail to handle them correctly.

Destructive Conflict And Its Effect

According to the book Marital Conflict And Children: An Emotional Security Perspective, there are many destructive tactics that are used by parents to hurt each other that can deeply harm their children. Harmful behavioral tactics like name-calling, threats of abandonment, physical aggression, insults etc. can be harmful for children who witness these behaviors. Silent treatment like avoidance, sulking in silence and walking out are also equally detrimental.


When parents use such destructive ways of dealing with each other, the children end up bearing the brunt of it which can leave behind a deep impact on their psyche. Children are very perceptive of conflicts and moods of their parents. So, continuous conflicts can affect children and their behaviors in two different ways. In one way, children can feel constantly anxious, worried and hopeless. And in the other way, children can express themselves and their pain through violent outbursts and aggressiveness toward others. Some children can develop problems with their sleep and face recurring health problems like headaches, etc. because of the stress of parental conflicts. The stress that they feel can make them lose their concentration and ability to focus. And the worse effect of it would be if they start to emulate the same behaviors as their parents in their relationships later in life, instead of dealing with them maturely.

A Way Forward For Parents


A study was conducted over 20 years with children and their families. The researchers found out from the blood samples that children who grew up in conflict-ridden households are more likely to have higher cortisol levels than children who grew up in calmer environment. So, the researchers feel that children from such households are more likely to be sick often, which shows that children don’t ever get used to conflicts. And when such children experience calmer environment, their stress levels can drastically reduce and their health can significantly improve.

Scientists suggest that parents should try to model a perfect life in front of their children. It is very important that children feel happy and emotionally secure in the presence of their parents. Also, psychologists suggest that parents should avoid fighting in front of their children when things are severe.


Psychologists also believe that conflicts can have a constructive effect on children if they see their parents fight and resolve their fights amicably. This can give them the assurance that their parents can work through their problems.

A Few Tips For Parents


It is important for both partners to have empathy for each other. Try to see the best in each other and give each other the benefit of doubt when things go wrong. Remember that you both want the best for your child. So, work as a team when it comes to the well-being of your child.

Children learn most of their life lessons from their parents. So, it is their responsibility to be a model of positive behavior for them.