Most couples disagree and many engage in arguments. Those who escalate their disagreements to fights and do so in front of their children are inadvertently harming their youngsters.
Children understand that parents do not always see eye to eye about some subjects. They can accept and even benefit from witnessing animated discussions, respectful arguments and sound compromises. Yet, when the exchanges become aggressive, offensive, dismissive or disrespectful, children become frightened and anxious.
Most youngsters view themselves as part Mom and part Dad. Negative parental exchanges may diminish the children's view of both sides of themselves. In addition, most youngsters fear that parental fights may terminate the marriage and leave them stranded. Though they may not voice these concerns, they are deeply impacted by fears about the potential dissolution of the family.
Children who witness frequent high conflict between their parents may become distracted at school, depressed, anxious or brooding. It affects their capacity to concentrate on learning when the stability of their existence is in doubt.
Researcher Susan Campbell found that "Negative, inconsistent parental behavior and high levels of family adversity are associated with the emergence of problems in early childhood and predict their persistence in school age."
Paul Amato, who analyzed 92 studies about the effect of divorce on children,
E. Mark Cummins reported the lasting effects of parental conflict. Kindergarten students who grew up in high conflict homes were reported to be more insecure, depressed, anxious and dealing with behaviorial issues by senventh grade. He summarized, "Conflict affects children by affecting their sense of emotional security and if they don't have that they feel distressed emotionally and are more prone to aggression and hostility."
For parents, exercising self-containment when they feel misunderstood, threatened and unsafe is daunting. The urgency of restoring the mate's respect is so compelling that it may overshadow all other considerations.
Most parents know that it is advisable to discuss controversial subjects in private, contain frustrations and stay mature and logical when their emotions flood them. Yet, these routes are not easily accessible to adults when their esteem is threatened.
Parents can manage their differences, be heard and validated during peaks of feeling indignant. By using the following tool, parents can prevent the damage that may be caused to their youngsters during escalating conflicts.
Since most parental behaviors are remembered, recorded and imbedded in their children's minds as life and relationship lessons, parents may want to imagine themselves being videotaped in every interaction in the presence of their children. When we view ourselves as being filmed, we are better able to preserve our overseeing consciousness that may keep our emotions at bay and our sensibilities intact.
Do you need to improve your relationship? Contact Offra Gerstein, a clinical psychologist in Santa Cruz with more than 30 years of success in helping couples restore their love. Call 476-7666 or visit www.relationshipmatters.com.