It would be unrealistic to expect couples not to fight. Two individuals staying together under a roof cannot be courteous to each other all the time. They are bound to have clashes once in a while. But these individuals are now “Parents” and hence need to follow some caution on how they conduct themselves during this conflict and even more importantly, think about how they resolve it. Our every action impacts our kids’ behavioral, psychological and even physical development.
Here are some snippets from academic research conducted on this topic-
“Considerable evidence indicates that children are highly sensitive to parents’ discord. Indeed, prolonged exposure to some forms of marital conflict increases the likelihood of children’s psychological and physical problems”- Marital Conflict and Children: An Emotional Security Perspective, by E. Mark Cummings and Patrick T. Davies
Do not assume that only physical violence is the form of aggression which is off-limits in front of kids. Verbal aggression tactics such as name-calling, character attacks, sarcasm, threats and cursing each other’s families are damaging too. Some may think that they are at least not yelling but if they exhibit passive-aggressive behaviors like offering silent treatment or worse, putting the child in between by saying things like- “go and tell your father” or “say this to your mom”, they still cause a negative impact on the child. Kids have impressionable and highly sensitive minds. They think the world revolves around them. So if they see parents fighting they cannot imagine it is something other than them. They hold themselves responsible for that argument and their parent’s unhappiness.
While kids generally have a positive outlook towards the world, when they see their parents arguing they assume the worst. Spouses often threaten to walk out of the marriage in these situations. Though none of them may mean it but try explaining that to a 4-5 year old scared child. This makes them insecure in their environment. Their psyche is affected making them distressed, irritable and anxious. This may also cause developing health issues such as headaches, sleep disturbances and bed-wetting which will interfere with their overall development.
Family and social ramifications of these could also be huge. Kids feel like running away from a place they call home where there are constantly bickering adults. They lose respect and trust towards their parents and faith in the institution of marriage. This makes them detached from the family. In cases where siblings are also involved, the eldest may feel even more responsible and protective.
Another aspect of this is once kids know that their parents are not a team and a united front they could exploit the opportunity by playing them against each other. The fact that parents are role models for their kids cannot be emphasized enough. When kids see their parents yelling at each other often, they assume it is normal. Kids who have observed domestic violence are more prone to be perpetrators. This may show not just in their family-life once they grow up but may come to the fore in schools or playgrounds too.
Some of the things couples can attempt are- talk it out with your partner with patience and by keeping your voice down. If tempers are flaring, take a time out to cool down and come back. Do not try to suppress any issue or it may come out with more intensity. If you really need to shout and cry it out, try to get kids out to school, activity class or go out with friends. Kids would still sense there is something wrong with Mamma Papa but they need not be party to the entire conversation.