Child’s View: When Parents Argue

In most scenes on last night’s season premiere of MTV’s Teen Mom, I noticed all three mothers arguing with other adults while their toddlers played or crawled around nearby. Fighting is a recurring theme in that show. It got me thinking: How often have we seen adults arguing in front of children? Have our own parents argued in front of us? What effects do caregivers’ arguments have on children?

There’s good news and bad news.
The good news is that there are two types of conflict, one of which (constructive) can actually teach positive lessons to children. We’ll get back to that.

Most conflicts tend to be harmful because they are destructive. These typically include:

  • Name-calling
  • Cursing
  • Physical aggression
  • Sulking
  • Crying
  • “the silent treatment”

Research has shown that children exposed to destructive conflict are more likely to become aggressive, withdrawn, anxious, depressed or have behavior problems. Also, children don’t get used to their parents discord but, instead, become more sensitive to it. And when these arguments are ongoing, the more sensitive to them that the child becomes, resulting in elevated distress and negative thoughts.

Additionally, a 2008 study published in Child Development revealed that children who were concerned over their parents’ interactions were shown to have an immediate increase in attention problems that were noticeable even a year later.

A 2009 study conducted in Britain revealed that parents being together, being united and getting on well was rated as one of the most important factors in the lives of over 70 per cent of teenagers surveyed. Only 30 per cent of parents said the same.

On the flip side of all of this, a study published in the Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, suggests that children who witness their parents’ constructive conflicts are more likely to have positive interactions with peers and become more psychologically healthy over time.

“It gives them a lesson on how you can come to a mutually acceptable solution through compromise.” – Patrick Davies, University of Rochester

Find out how to have Constructive instead of Destructive conflict

If parents’ conflicts evolve into difficulties in the relationship, they should seek support for that.
For children, engaging in conversations, programs or activities-whether conducted in or out of the home- that teach pro-social behavior, problem solving and attention skills may help to buffer the effects of their caregivers’ destructive conflict.

Read More: Working with children who show attention problems
Arguing parents leads to stressed out kids
Children who are concerned about parents arguing are prone to school problems
Parents who argue ‘harm their children’
It may be OK to fight in front of the kids

Image: Tina Phillips /



About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
This entry was posted in Attention, Communication, Conflict, Domestic violence, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Child’s View: When Parents Argue

  1. Richard J says:

    Good article.

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