And yet they talk.
My mother verbally lashed my father, broke jam jars, and made outlandish threats. Her outbursts froze me in my tracks. When my father fled to work, the garage, or the woods, I felt unprotected. Years later, when my husband and I decided to have children, I resolved never to fight in front of them.
Mark Cummings, psychologist at Notre Dame University, who, along with colleagues, has published hundreds of papers over twenty years on the subject. When parents are destructive, the collateral damage to kids can last a lifetime.
Mark Cummings, Notre Dame University As a developmental psychologist I knew that marital quarreling was inevitable but I also knew that there had to be a better way to handle it.
What is destructive conflict? In their book Marital Conflict and Children: An Emotional Security Perspective, Cummings and colleague Patrick Davies from the University of Rochester identify the kinds of destructive tactics that parents use with each other that harm children: When parents repeatedly use hostile strategies with each other, some children can become distraught, worried, anxious and hopeless.
Others may react outwardly with anger, becoming aggressive and developing behavior problems at home and at school. Children can develop sleep disturbances and health problems like headaches and stomachaches, or they may get sick frequently. Their stress can interfere with their ability to pay attention and create learning and academic problems at school.
Most children raised in environments of destructive conflict have problems forming healthy, balanced relationships with their peers. Even sibling relationships are adversely affected—they can become overinvolved and overprotective of each other, or distant and disengaged.
A recent study showed that even year-olds remained sensitive to parental conflict. They found that those who grew up in homes with high levels of conflict had more physical health problems, emotional problems, and social problems later in life compared to control groups. As adults, they were more likely to report vascular and immune problems, depression and emotional reactivity, substance dependency, loneliness, and problems with intimacy.
Some parents may think that they can avoid impacting their children by giving in, or capitulating, to end an argument.
They just know things are wrong. And pretending is actually worse in some ways. At home, parents are trained to keep records or diaries of their fights, including when they fought, what they fought about, the strategies they used, and how they thought their children reacted.
In the laboratory, parents are recorded while discussing a difficult topic, and their strategies are analyzed.
How would you feel if your parents did that; how would you describe what your parents are doing? Children who lived with parents who constantly quarreled and fought had higher average cortisol levels than children who lived in more peaceful families. As a result, they frequently became tired and ill, they played less, and slept poorly.
In contrast, when children experienced particularly calm or affectionate contact, their cortisol decreased. Both animal and human studies show that chronic activation of the stress response can change the architecture of a developing brain:Arguments between parents and children has existed for as long as we can remember.
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Some parents may think that they can avoid impacting their children by giving in, or capitulating, to end an argument. But that’s not an effective tactic. “We did a study on that,” Cummings said.