Effect of parents’ relationship on children
Parents obviously have a huge influence to bear on their children but they sometimes forget that their relationship with each other also has an enormous effect on their children. This is true whether both parents live at home or not.
Five positive contributions of the parental relationship
Security: When parents are focused on their child and not on their conflicts, that child is more likely to receive sensitive, responsive care. This is exactly the type of care children need in order to be able to develop a sense of trust in their world. This sense of trust and security is vital to children's continued emotional growth and well-being.
Cultural values: Observing how the adults in his world get on and relate to each other is often a child's first introduction to how his society works. While we don't often consciously teach our children our cultural values, they are continually learning them based on our own behaviour.
Conflict management: Living in such close quarters makes it inevitable that conflicts will arise in families. Parents are not going to agree all the time on everything; it is by witnessing how their parents manage to solve their differences that children pick up their techniques for managing conflict.
Gender roles: By observing how the adults in their life respond to each other, children learn at a very early age about how they as boys or girls are expected to behave. They also learn how to behave towards the opposite sex by observing what their parents do.
Anger management: Children are keen observers of their parents and are very aware of conflicts, etc, between parents. Because of the physical and emotional closeness within families, emotions can be very intense — not only positive emotions but also negative ones. Situations will inevitably arise where people get angry towards each other. How you manage your anger with your child is important, but you should also remember that your child will be observing and copying your approach to managing your anger with your partner.
Negative effects of parental strife
Research has shown that when a couple can offer each other emotional and physical support and comfort, the likelihood that they will provide the same to their children is increased. Obviously when things are problematic in the parental relationship, it can be more difficult for parents to provide the type of environment that is best for their children. When there is strife in the parents’ relationship this has the potential to have many negative effects on children.
Direct effects of parental conflict
These apply if children are present when their parents are fighting and arguing. In some cases parents draw children into their conflicts and try to get them to take sides.
In general, experts agree that having your child witness your fights is not a good idea. However in real life this is sometimes easier said than done. Researchers agree that one feature of an argument that affects the child most, is how it is resolved if children see their parents arguing and making up, this will be much less detrimental than seeing their parents arguing and not resolving their differences.
Getting children involved in parental arguments and trying to get them to take sides places them in a terribly stressful situation.
Another situation is where a child actually witnesses physical violence between parents — it is now recognised that this has potentially major negative effects on that child. It can lead to feelings of helplessness, despair, anger and anxiety that can overwhelm the child. Experts would regard exposing children to such violence and aggression as a serious form of child abuse.
Indirect effects of parental conflict
Indirect effects are felt when the conflict affects the parents' child-rearing practices. Just as having a close, affectionate, relationship can enhance a parent's ability to parent effectively, conversely having a difficult, argumentative relationship can interfere with that ability.
Interestingly, current research shows that boys seem to be more affected by parental conflict than girls. The reasons for this are complex but it may be that they are more likely to be directly exposed to parental bickering and physical abuse than girls are.
While it is recognised that all relationships will go through their ups and downs most parents would aspire to having a close, satisfying, relationship. This is the optimum for children — to be close to both their parents and to see that their parents are close to each other also.
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