Here's How Parental Conflicts Can Affect Children
Conflicts are a part of every relationship, but they must never reach your child. You never know, how the conflict is affecting your child.
A child as young as 8 months or 9 months can understand a conflict in parents
- Conflicts are a part of every relationship, but keep them away from kids
- Strange parental behaviors can be disturbing for a child too
- Avoid sharing your personal disputes with the kid
As a parent, you would never wish your child to see something negative or catch a bad habit. But you may forget it yourself as to how your own personal conflicts are affecting your child. Conflicts are a part of every relationship, but they must never reach your child. Because you never know, how that conflict is affecting your child's mental health. These conflicts could lead to lasting damages, damages to your child's overall mental growth, personality and even his/her academic performance.
According to Dr Deepali Batra, "A child as young as 8 months or 9 months can understand a conflict in parents. Any form of violence or shouting or screaming can be perceived by kids. If the child is six months and can sit, he or she is smart enough to understand if two people are shouting at each other or at the baby. Even infants show features of irritable behavior due to such incidents. Such kids show crying spells, they do not play, do not eat and show other strange behaviors."
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Dr Batra says that children understand body language and emotions. When a child starts perceiving that there is a lot of negativity in their environment then his or her growth is automatically hampered. Such incidents are very disturbing and damaging for kids. Children who are in the eighth or tenth standard and have important examinations coming up, they report difficulty in concentration due to such incidents. Such kids fail to give their examinations peacefully.
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"And it's not just due to parental conflicts. Strange parental behaviors can be disturbing for a child too. For example, if a father is into the habit of drinking and he keeps falling here and there due to it, it is very disturbing for a daughter to lift him up and take him home. The daughter feels embarrassed and the incident happens to be very traumatic for her. This could affect her ability to study or give examinations or even handle alcoholics around her," Dr Batra added.
How do extra-marital affairs affect the child?
Dr Batra says, "If a child sees either parent getting involved with someone else outside the house, the child understands it all and undergoes a good deal of disturbance due to it. It can hamper the child's learning, achievements, academics, emotions, personality and much more. All in all, it affects every aspect of the child's growth. In the long term, such kids may develop depression, anxiety and may have hard time building relations. This can be anything, their relationship with friends, colleagues, seniors or even the spouse. So in general, the child's relationship with everyone around gets affected."
If a child sees either parent cheating on the other, he or she starts leading a very chaotic life. Children themselves catch such things and report to the other parent. Even the 10-year olds are smart enough to understand such behaviors. And in a world where every person is so involved in his or her life, kids are meant to feel left out and undesired by the parent. This is when they start developing emotional grudges and are drawn away from the parent. Now kids do not adapt to it. They somehow start living with this chaos and carry it forward in their life. These kids may get into multiple relationships, may start smoking hookah and can do drugs; they may even attempt suicide or try to harm themselves. In some cases, kids may even run away from school or get into age-inappropriate activities.
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What is the impact on the child of such negativity?
"When a child feels any form of stress, either he internalizes it or externalizes it. Internalizing means that the child can be very anxious, shy, quiet and non-participative. And if the child externalizes the same thing, the child can be argumentative, rebellious, can answer back and be rude to people around. So it depends on the child's temperament," says Dr Batra.
How do children perceive inter-parental dominance?
Dr Batra says that if the child sees one parent dominating the other, the child can show a very different behavior. The child may complain to the dominant parent about the other and tries to manipulate the dominant parent. The child knows how to take the benefit of this and how to get his or her way. The child can start playing the victim card as well. In fact, if the child sees that the male figure in the family dominates the female figure, the child will carry it forward as learning. And on the basis of the same, the child will see and start judging things. So what a child sees at home is what the child perceives in life. It is called observational learning.
Environmental learning plays a very important role in shaping a person's personality and behavior. These include tone, volume, the manner of talking, respect, and other traits.
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Tips for parents to avoid conflicts and keep kids away from negativity
Dr Deepali says, "First of all, parents must understand that they must learn how to handle their personal problems, stress, and negativity."
- To begin with parents need to learn emotional regulation. If they themselves are not able to manage their emotions, they will not be able to keep negativity away.
- Parents need to understand that the child understands everything. Even if he or she is pretending to sleep, the child can be wide awake and could be listening to everything.
- You must check your verbal language and body language in front of your kids. What you say or do is what they learn. You must choose your words wisely and be careful about your tone as well.
- Being honest and expressive is good but in a positive way.
- Learn how to cope with your problems; you will pass this mechanism on to your kids as well.
- Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. So if you are taking it too regularly, you need to check your behavior and your words. Even if you feel that you are in full control of your senses, you may not be and can do inappropriate things. Sometimes the words you say under the influence of alcohol can have a very damaging impact on your child.
- Avoid smoking or drinking with your kids. Somewhere down the line if your child disrespects you under the influence of alcohol, then don't blame them for it. Instead, don't promote this habit in the first place.
- Play with your child and spend more time with them.
- Avoid sharing your personal disputes with the kid. Don't share your conflicts with your spouse with the child. Many times parents share such conflicts with the child who is not capable to understand it all.
- Avoid sharing your negative thoughts about your spouse with the child. This has a very dramatic and very traumatic effect on the child. The child may just stop respecting the other spouse. Share a happy and playful relationship with your kid. At no age, you must share all this.
- Instead of being judgmental about your spouse, try to be supportive and understanding so that the child does not develop negativity towards the other parent.
(Dr Deepali Batra is a Senior Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Max Hospital)
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