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Support for parents/ carers


Relationship issues


Parental relationship issues or Parental conflict occurs in every relationship and can sometimes lead to feelings of anger, even extreme anger, between partners or ex-partners. Parental conflict can mean many things and can often take the form of loud, angry arguments. One common feature of parental conflict is each person blaming the other for what's going on.




How relationship issues can affect children 


Children are able (more than we think!) to pick up on tension between parents, which can make them worry. When conflict becomes loud, aggressive arguments children are likely to feel very scared. What makes it worse for them is that the very people who are the ones they look to for comfort when they are frightened are the ones being scary. It can be confusing for small children who can't understand what is going on and are likely to blame themselves for the arguing. If aggressive arguments happen often then children live with these bad feelings much of the time when parents live together. If parents are separated it can cause them to feel very anxious when their parents have contact with each other, for example when they are being collected or dropped off.

Children can develop difficulties when there is conflict between parents:

  • Mental Health:
    • Depression and Anxiety;
    • Behavioural problems.
  • Academic problems;
    • Finding it more difficult to concentrate;
    • Being disruptive in class.
  • Physical Health problems;
  • Social Relationship Problems:
    • Peers;
    • Future relationships.
  • Substance Misuse;
  • Low employability;
  • Inter-Personal Violence;
  • Physical or verbal aggression;
  • Sulking or the 'silent treatment';
  • Getting caught up in highly intense or heated arguments;
  • Withdrawing or walking away from an argument. 

Children may also be less troubled by conflict when parents are able to resolve an argument. However, this 'resolution' needs to be genuine. Children are not fooled when parents tell them things have been sorted out but fail to relate to each other in ways that demonstrate that the relationship has been repaired. Parents' actions need to echo their words. Children can learn behaviours that are helpful in their relationships with others from observing parents handling conflict well.

Children are also at risk of a range of health difficulties (Troxel and Matthews, 2004) including: 

  • Digestive problems;
  • Fatigue;
  • Reduced physical growth;
  • Headaches and pains;
  • Problems sleeping; 
  • Modelling adult behaviours and perpetuating the cycle of parental conflict.

Difficulties can extend into school, with children less able to settle, more likely to have trouble getting on with peers, and less likely to achieve academically because of the impact of conflict between parents on children's cognitive abilities and attention (Harold et al, 2007). 

Conflict between parents is one of the key factors that explain why other family difficulties, such as impoverished circumstances, parental depression or substance abuse, are also associated with poor outcomes for children (Du Rocher Schudlich and Cummings, 2007).


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