The Impact on Children’s Mental Health Due to Parental Conflict
Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Mental health is important in order to live a healthy and balanced life. Our feelings, thought processes and behaviours are often determined by our mental health. Having good mental health means one can fully enjoy one’s life, have the ability to challenge adversity, achieve life goals and maintain healthy personal and social relationships. The science of child development has shown that the base of sound mental health is developed in the early stages of child development which includes a relationship with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers (Center of the Developing Child, 2013). It also shows that the children facing difficult life circumstances such as family stress or parental relationship issues such as divorce and inter-parental conflict contribute to significant short-term or long-term mental health challenges (Harold, Acquah, Sellers, Chowdry & Feinstein, 2016).
The Australian Institute of Family Studies [AIFS](2019) shows that the divorce rate in the year 2017 was 2.0 per 1000 Australian population. The rate of divorce of parents having children under 18 years is 47.1% (AIFS, 2019). The rate has fallen significantly from 1975 which
was 67.6%, but its impact is still significant.
The research conducted by Young Minds Matter in “the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Well-being” shows that the prevalence of mental health disorders such as Social Phobia, separation anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and conduct disorder among 4-17 years was found higher on children who live with single parents (the majority were divorced parents). The reason behind such results might be certain negative circumstances such as parental mental health problems, family dysfunctions, conflict, abuse, and poor socio-economic conditions (Lucas, Nicholson & Erbas, 2013).
Meanwhile, we can witness some couples who maintain a toxic relationship for the best interest of a child in terms of security, stability, and quality time with both parents said Fiona Bennett (Counsellor at Relationships Australia). Living in continuous exposure to parent’s conflict can be more hazardous than living with divorced single parents (Baker & Chambers, 2011). Any type of parental conflict could be harmful to children because of the negative emotion shown by the child’s attachment figures (Baker & Chambers, 2011).
The research conducted by Australia’s National Research Organization for Women’s Safety [ANROWS] (2017) shows that involvement or exposure to inter-parental conflict generates a significant impact at various levels. Firstly, living in a conflicting environment escalates the risk
of a child being abused. Also, the children are prone to negative impacts on social, emotional, and educational outcomes. Since the parents themselves are going through stressful situations, the child may be exposed to neglectful, manipulative or abusive parenting behaviour (ANROWS Compass, 2017). The reports say the consequences of such behaviour include intense levels of traumatic stress, anxiety and behavioural problems. Children might also generate difficulties gaining trust with partners in future and may become abusive in adulthood (ANROWS Compass, 2017).
Considering the abovementioned consequences on the mental health of a child, one should give a chance to working issues out effectively, or to learn to do so. Couple-based therapy and education based on the Gottman Method for Healthy Relationships could be a great resource to resolve conflict within a partner (Psychology Today, 2019). The Gottman method of therapy works to develop understanding and skills to create a mental map of a partners world and learn strategies to manage conflict when it arises.
Getting a proper understanding of the healthy and unhealthy way of arguing might also help to resolve arguments in a relationship. Some tips for healthy discussions are: staying composed and flexible, valuing the opinion of your partner, stop talking when reaching high levels of distress, express your emotion time and again, and apologizing by admitting mistakes. Meanwhile, there are some tips to be avoided such as attacking each other, wanting to win, saying too much, avoiding conflict and fighting under stressful conditions.
To conclude, mental health is the key to a healthy relationship and a happy family. So, one should always take care of their emotional health on a day to day basis. Small changes in daily habits such as exercising, having a balanced diet, connecting with friends and family, being grateful to life and good sound sleep helps to get relief from stress and keep one’s mental state stable (Xiong, 2018).