|Basic InformationMore InformationLatest News|Type 2 Diabetes Progresses Faster in Kids, Study FindsToo Few Kids Use Fast-Food Calorie Info, Study FindsIodine Deficiency Has Negative Impact on Child CognitionChildren Who Have CT Scans May Face Higher Cancer RiskATS: Adenotonsillectomy Offers Relief to Kids With Sleep ApneaWeather Worries Can Threaten a Child's Mental HealthPrimary Care Docs Should Play Role in Kids' Dental Health, Experts SayStudy: Older Whooping Cough Vaccine More EffectiveHealth Tip: Help Children Eat Healthier1 in 5 U.S. Kids Has a Mental Health Disorder: CDCSchool-Based Smoking Prevention Programs WorkBrain Anatomy in Dyslexics Varies By Gender, Study FindsEven Mild Iodine Deficiency Can Affect Child's CognitionMany U.S. Kids Victims of Violence, Abuse: SurveyKids' Reading, Math Skills Tied to Future SuccessMore Time in Gym Class Equals Stronger KidsMagnesium-Rich Food May Help Keep Kids' Bones StrongGasoline Poisonings in Kids Spike During Summer: StudyPAS: Children With Strep Don't Need to Toss ToothbrushesMany Parents Texting, Phoning While Driving Their Kids: SurveyMany Suicidal Kids Have Access to Guns at Home: StudyMore Kids Diagnosed With Mental Health Disabilities, Study Finds1997 to 2011 Saw Increase in Allergies Among U.S. ChildrenPreordered School Lunches May Be Healthier, Study FindsAt-Home Drug Errors Common for Kids With Cancer, Research ShowsFood, Skin Allergies on the Rise Among Children: CDCMore Than 4,000 U.S. Kids Hurt Each Year on Amusement RidesFDA Concerned Caffeinated Foods Could Harm ChildrenSecondhand Smoke Tied to Lower 'Good' Cholesterol in Teen GirlsChild Fruit Consumption Up With Pre-Slicing in SchoolsAllergies: As American as Apple Pie?Why Johnny Can't Add, Even After TutoringPoor Parenting Styles Linked to Bullying Behavior in KidsImpact of Childhood Bacterial Meningitis Lasts Into Adulthood'Clean Your Plate' Orders From Parents May Backfire for KidsPopular Cinnamon Stunt Can Have Serious Lung EffectsAMSSM: Cognitive Effect of Concussion Lasts in ChildrenMany Parents Text, Phone With Kids in Car: SurveyMigraines in Children Linked to Infantile ColicHelping Children Make Sense of the SenselessSocial Networks Affect Parents' Vaccination Decision-MakingHealth Tip: What's Keeping Your Child Awake?Parenting Magazines Give Little Attention to Sun ProtectionSleep Apnea Tied to Behavioral, Attention Problems in YouthsFrequent Eating in Kids Tied to Less Weight GainParents' Military Deployment Takes Toll on Kids, Study FindsMental Health Care Lacking for Kids, Advocates SayDespite Big Progress, Many Kids Have High Lead Levels in BloodMelanoma Rates Rising in U.S. ChildrenKids of Better-Educated Parents Have Healthier Diets: StudyQuestions and AnswersLinksBook Reviews
Parents' Fighting May Have Long-Lasting Effect on Kids
by By Jenifer GoodwinHealthDay Reporter
Updated: Jun 15th 2012
FRIDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- Slamming doors, shouting and stony silences between mom and dad can really scar kids emotionally, new research suggests.
Kindergarteners whose parents fought with each other frequently and harshly were more likely to grow into emotionally insecure older children who struggled with depression, anxiety and behavior issues by 7th grade, the study authors found.
And yet, the researchers said, not all conflict was troublesome to children. If parents refrained from harshly criticizing one other, stonewalling one another or being violent with one another, and instead managed to work out their problems in a constructive way, children weren't terribly bothered by the conflicts.
The key to keeping kids well-adjusted isn't having a perfect, conflict-free marriage, the study authors said. It's in being able to control emotions enough to fight fair, and resolve conflicts in a way that doesn't threaten the stability of the family, they explained.
"Problems occur every day. But if parents problem solve and try to work it out, if they come up with a resolution or work toward it, if the parents show positive emotion when they are in the middle of fighting, if they say nice things to each other or are affectionate, kids see all these things as very positive, and it changes how kids see the conflict," said study author E. Mark Cummings, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, included 235 middle-class families (average family income between $40,000 and $60,000) from the Midwest and Northeast United States.
When the children were in kindergarten, parents were asked about their level of marital conflict. Parents were also asked to discuss a potentially contentious topic, such as finances or parenting, while researchers rated how critical they were of their spouse.
The children were then followed-up with seven years later, when they were in 7th grade. During that time, 36 couples separated or divorced, and two fathers died. Kids and their parents were again asked about a host of issues around behavior and emotional health.
According to the findings, kids whose parents fought the most when the child was in kindergarten felt less emotionally secure, or felt less safe and protected. Emotional insecurity included things such as whether the kids were upset or acted out such as through hitting or aggression during the conflict, or if the kids reported they felt distressed by their parents' fights, Cummings said.
Kids who were less emotionally secure had more mental health issues such as symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as behavioral problems.
Studies dating back to the 1920s have found that marital conflict can impact kids, Cummings said. This research tried to get at what aspects of conflict are the most damaging.
"Conflict affects children by affecting their sense of emotional security about the family," he said. "A child has a sense of security or well-being, and if they don't have that they feel distressed emotionally, are more prone to aggression and hostility."
Parents face all sorts of stress, and fighting is normal, Cummings said. But parents need to keep in mind that their children are watching and listening.
"Conflict is part of life. If you don't always agree with your spouse, it's fine, as long as you can work it out constructively," Cummings said. "A lot of people don't realize how much kids are affected by the relationship between the parents, not just the relationship of the parents to the kids. Kids' feelings about themselves and their family have to do with how the parents relate to each other as well as to the child."
While the study uncovered an association between interparental conflict and emotional security in children, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, said it's not surprising that conflict between parents isn't good for children's emotional health.
However, the researchers didn't take into account that kids with mental health or behavioral issues might also take a toll on the marriage. In addition, 36 of the couples divorced during the course of the study. Researchers didn't account for the impact that might have on children. Divorce means a change in family structure, along with relocation and a loss in family income, that is very disruptive to children.
"Although it's not surprising that marital stress is associated with later emotional and behavioral difficulties in children in adolescence, the study fails to adequately control for important possible other plausible explanations or contributing factors," Adesman said.
The Nemours Foundation has tips to help children cope with parents fighting.
This article: Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.