The Impact of Parental Conflict on Young Children

February 5, 2018

How Conflict Contributes Negatively To Children's Adjustment To Divorce

The Impact of Parental Conflict On Children During Divorce

The best thing you can do for your children is minimize their exposure to conflict.

We have all heard the term “staying together for the kids” to refer to parents who remain married until their children are grown and out of the house. What many parents don’t realize is that continuous exposure to conflict is much more detrimental to a child’s development than a divorce. While it’s true children experience pain during their parent’s divorce, studies indicate that child whose exposure to conflict is minimize are likely to go on to live well developed lives.

The Stages of Divorce Grief

That said, expect your children to feel a wide range of emotions when they learn about the divorce. Encourage them to share their emotions with you and help them identity what they are feeling. Many children who go through divorce experience the following five stages of grief:

  1. Denial. In this stage children believe the separation is only temporary and that their parents will reconcile and stay married.
  2. Anger. During this stage children feel like the world is out to get them. “This isn’t fair” are words you can expect to hear often. Give your children space to feel these heavy emotions, even if they are directed at you. It’s important to provide lots of support during this stage and ensure children seek help from a third party if necessary.
  3. Bargaining. This stage is relatively unique in children as they tend to feel extremely powerless in the family dynamic. Children may believe if they work really hard, or get really good grades then their parents will get back together.
  4. Depression. Children may begin to withdraw and isolate themselves from their friends and family. They may feel very sad and show a lack of interest in the things which once brought them joy. If you are worried about your child during this phase there are many resources available to you.
  5. Acceptance. Reaching this stage is a good indication your child has adjusted to their new reality. While all their wounds may not be healed they are ready to move forward and reclaim their lives.

How You Can Minimize the Negative Impacts of Divorce

The research states that children as young as 6 months old can be negatively impacted by their parents fighting. Conflict in the home causes developing brains to show distress and may create lasting effects such as aggression, anxiety and depression. It’s extremely important to remember this when going through a separation or divorce. While your emotions are sure to run high, it’s your duty as a parent to ensure the children are not exposed to your fighting. Parental conflict is most harmful to kids when it is reoccurring and aggressive. Aggressive fighting is defined by verbal insults, yelling, being physical or giving the silent treatment for an extended period of time. As such, it may be necessary to “cool off” during intense conversations or schedule time to discuss the separation when the children are out of the house. And never ever use your children as pawns to hurt the other parent.

Helping Your Kids Cope During Divorce

While it may seem divorce is nothing but detrimental a child’s behaviour and development, this is not necessarily the case. Many children of divorce go on to live well adjusted and fulfilled lives of their own following a separation. You can promote a healthy adjustment by legitimizing their feelings, being honest about the divorce, providing concrete answers to their question, offering emotional support – or offering to help find a third party for them to talk to, and keeping the details in check. Children do not need to know all aspects of the separation. Answer their questions with honesty but do not divulge “grown up” information. When it comes time to tell your children about the divorce be prepared for them to ask many questions about the logistics of their every day lives. They will want to know where they will be sleeping, where their toys will stay, when they will see each parent and make sure you reassure them of your unconditional love.

If you are going through a divorce and think mediation is right for you, connect with us to set up an initial consultation.

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