All families have their fair share of arguments. Squabbles over who was supposed to unload the dishwasher or take out the trash are pretty common in all families. It's when the arguments start to get heated or frequent where troubles start to brew.
Not all kids suffer from negative effects of family fighting, but ongoing or intensifying arguments may have lasting impacts on the physical and mental health of kids -- effects that reach beyond race, social or economic status.
Here we'll look at how family arguments impact kids, from models of conflict resolution to how stress effects children.
It can be okay for parents to fall into a disagreement in front of their kids -- who are we kidding, this isn't a perfect world. When they do happen, family arguments can be an opportunity to show your kids how to communicate. You can be the role model by putting your constructive rather than destructive argument skills on display.
The art of arguing includes staying calm, being respectful, dealing with the problem and completing the argument, even if it means taking some time away (time out for parents). When you do argue in front of the kids, be sure to apologize and make up in front of them too.
Stress and Worry
Adults may not think kids have much to stress about. But when children suffer in an argumentative environment it can turn into emotional turmoil. Will it happen again? Do their parents love them? Will their parents get divorced? What will happen to them?
According to a survey done by KidsHealth, about 25 percent of the kids surveyed reported harming themselves when they felt stressed, overwhelmed and upset, including banging their heads against something, hitting or biting themselves. In school-aged kids, parents and teachers should look for indicators such as withdrawal (usually, but not always, seen in girls) or aggression (usually, but not always, seen in boys).
And in younger kids, those around preschool age, signs of excessive worrying may surface attention deficits or throwing more frequent temper tantrums than their peers.
The stress brought on by family arguments can lead to emotional turmoil for everyone involved. Kids' minds may focus more on the arguments at home and whether or not their family will remain intact rather than on what's going on in social studies.
Coinciding with the level of at-home arguing, some kids begin to show cognitive problems including slower cognitive functioning and limited problem-solving skills.
Some food for thought: In a study done with third, fourth and fifth graders by the National Bureau of Economic Research, children from troubled families displayed lower tests scores in reading and math and had higher levels of disciplinary problems.
When disputes are common at home, whether it's parent to parent, between parents and kids or a combination of everyone, children often bear the brunt of the wounds.
Ongoing verbal fights that escalate to contemptuous and belittling (not just yelling, but name calling, bullying and cursing) put kids at an increased risk for social and psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, aggression, lower self-esteem and trouble interacting with their peers. Mix in physical violence and the risk for a kid developing long-term physical (on the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems) and/or mental health problems rises.
The family arguments may seem small, but their effects can be long lasting. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, teens exposed to their parents' frequent fighting were likely to have a lasting impact into their adulthood.
The study, known as the Simmons Longitudinal Study, was conducted at the Simmons School of Social Work. Researchers followed roughly 300 people from kindergarten to adulthood and found that when compared to their peers those who witnessed their parents fighting frequently were at an increased risk for major depression, alcohol and drug use/dependence and antisocial behaviors not only as teens but at age 30. And on top of that, they were also doubly at risk for poor personal relationships and career success as adults.