Study: Parental Conflict Can Do Lasting Damage To Kids

It’s generally accepted that arguing in front of the kids is a bad idea, but a new study uncovers exactly why it’s such an issue for parents to do so. University of Vermont researchers looked at 99 kids ages nine to eleven, dividing them into two groups based on a series of psychological assessments they took that scored how much parental conflict they experienced and how much they felt the conflict threatened their parents’ marriage. They were then shown a series of photos of couples engaged in happy, angry, or neutral interactions, and asked to choose which category fit each photo best. The results showed kids from low conflict homes consistently labeled the photos accurately, but those from high conflict homes who experienced conflict as a threat were only able to identify the photos of happy and angry couples, and not those in neutral poses. Study leader Alice Schermerhorn says, “If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones or may simply present greater processing challenges.” On the other hand, she says it could also be that neutral parental interactions may be less significant for kids who feel threatened by their parents’ conflict, so they do not learn to recognize them.