Warning: Children Are Psychologically Damaged When Parents Fight!
Internalized stress is behind many bad behaviors
If you are going through a divorce or considering such a decision, no doubt you are concerned about the potential effect this could have on your children. However, it’s important to know that fighting around the children does more damage to them than their divorce. When parents handle divorce amicably and put their children’s psychological needs foremost when making all decisions, serious emotional harm to the kids is avoided.
Now a study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence confirms this perspective. While the focus on this study is on fighting over financial issues, the consequences are basically the same: damage to the children’s well-being.
The study shows that children exposed to constant parental bickering are more likely to be depressed. They are also more prone to expressing other problem behaviors, including substance abuse, aggression and poor school grades.
Not surprisingly the study revealed that among parents who were dealing with money-related chronic stress, relationships with their children were highly tense and lacking in intimacy. Is the tension related to divorce much different? Can the outcome for children exposed to this tension be any better?
When interviewed about the results of this study, California divorce attorney Joann Babiak had the following suggestions. (You’ll notice they are the same advice we consistently offer to parents in the Child-Centered Divorce community because the psychological harm from parental battles is basically the same.)
Never battle where kids can see or hear you.
Little ears can pick up phone conversations as well as conflict behind closed bedroom doors. People don’t think about the impact of their words on the little ones who are hearing it,” Babiak said. “I saw one child who just kept eating and internalizing his parents’ conflict. The physician eventually told the mother that this was negligence and that she was creating this stress inside the kid.”
Never play one parent off the other to win your child’s favors.
“I’ve seen a lot of instances where the child wanted something and the parent would say, ‘No, you can’t have that because your mother’s not paying child support,'” said Babiak. “Does that impact the relationship between both parents regardless of who’s paying? You’d better believe it does.” Bashing or demeaning your child’s other parent hurts and angers children in serious ways. Keep personal resentments personal and don’t use your kids as sounding boards. They’ll resent you for it and pay the price in stress, anxiety, depression and/or aggression.
Never let your children feel unimportant to you.
Babiak said she sees countless parents ignoring their children during custodial visits or handing them off to other caregivers so they can work. “The child isn’t sharing time with the parent; they’re just sitting around in the house. If you’re consistently not seeing the parent and enjoying that time because the parent is out in the workforce, that will only increase the conflict.”
Married or divorced, the results of parental conflict or inattention are the same: children wounded on a deep emotional level that can scar them for life. Stress is ever-prevalent in our culture, especially during tough economic times. But our children only get one childhood. Don’t they deserve the very best you can provide for them: your love, your attention, and the security of your presence? We don’t need any further studies to acknowledge what we all know: parents are the most powerful role models for our children.
Be the person you want them to see and model themselves after. You’ll never regret it — nor will they!