The Impact of Parental Conflict on Children

Parental conflict can have detrimental effect on children.

Children’s brains are growing at a phenomenal rate particularly between birth and three years. The period when brains are growing is when they are most vulnerable to stress. In fact brains do not finish ‘growing’ until a person is in their early to mid-twenties. When children of all ages experience stress their bodies release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol and adrenaline have a negative impact on brain development.

Children become stressed when their parents are stressed. If parents are in conflict, children experience stress.  Parental conflict has a negative impact on children’s brain development.

We as parents, often attempt to minimise in our own minds the impact of parental conflict on our children. We tell ourselves ‘they are too young to understand’, ‘they were asleep in bed and couldn’t hear the argument’, ‘they didn’t notice the tension between us, ‘that I didn’t kiss them goodbye this morning’.

Children notice everything about their parents because they are completely dependent on them for their survival.

As parents we cannot and do not get everything right for our children all the time. We can minimise any longer term impact by reducing their exposure to conflict and where there has been exposure, by having conversations that explain what has occurred and why, and providing them with reassurance.

We as parents need to protect our children’s brain development by reducing the stresses we expose them to. Parental conflict creates huge stress and distress for children and can have long term impacts on their brains. Short term parental conflict that is resolved can provide a positive role model for children. It is the long term ongoing conflict that can be detrimental.

Parenting; the most rewarding and most challenging role we will ever undertake.

Centacare Counselling Team Member