Parental Conflict and Effect on Children
Parenting disputes involving high levels of conflict and animosity between the parties often lead to children of the relationship developing emotional, social and behavioural problem in addition to negatively impacting concentration and educational achievement. These conflicts also affect how children view safety and security of their homes, as they often blame themselves for the parenting conflicts.
Parenting arrangements involving high levels of conflict and anger post-separation are twice as likely to foster these children’s issues compared to families that remain together. Post-separation conflict has been established as having the worst effect on relationships, with children often demonstrating signs of stress, depression, anxiety and anger.
What is Post-Separation Conflict?
The most common types of post-separation behaviour include: –
- Using children to convey hostile messages to the other parent;
- Asking or “interrogating” children about the other parent’s life;
- Creating situations where the children are required to hide information from the other parent;
- Manipulating children to avoid showing affection to the other parent; and
- Abusing or degrading the other parent in the presence of the child/ren.
How Can These Areas Be Avoided?
Children should be encouraged to talk openly about either household or parent but should feel no obligation to “report” to the other parent. As many children feel they are responsible for parental conflicts, fostering a safe environment where they can express feelings is important to promote emotional adjustment to the new separation.
The child’s relationships with others is also important. If the children had a positive relationship with other family members, friends or relative, these relationships should be maintained if possible. Although the parents of a relationship may have separated, other relatives (especially grandparents or close family members) can have a positive influence on the children.
Resolving parenting issues through Family Dispute Resolution, or an alternative agreement between the parties through mediation can not only help the children during this time, but also protect them from the negative effect mentioned above. Protective factors implemented by the parents during post-separation may include making more time to be actively involved (as opposed to child care moving to predominantly one parent) and ensuring relationships are maintained with siblings. By creating environments where the children feel physically and psychologically safe is critical to support them during this time and should be given the highest priority.