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Reducing parental conflict

Conflict is a normal and necessary part of family life. However, when conflict between parents is handled in destructive rather than constructive ways, it can have negative consequences both for parents and their children. It is important to acknowledge that children are vulnerable to the impact of conflict whether their parents are together, apart, or in the process of separation.

Parental conflict: the impact on children

Parental conflict places children at risk of:

  • negative peer relationships within their community and within school; with both peers and school staff, leading to lower academic outcomes
  • earlier involvement with drug and alcohol misuse
  • poor future adult relationships
  • future lower employability leading to financial difficulties and increased risk of poverty in the future
  • increased risk of poor mental health as children, and into adulthood
  • negative impact on neurobiological processes, which in turn affect children’s emotional development, leading to conduct disorder, poor attachment and risk-taking behaviours
  • children are also at risk of a range of health difficulties including sleep disorders, digestive problems, abdominal pains,  fatigue, headaches and reduced physical growth

It is important to note conflict between parents, rather than the event of parental separation or divorce, is a key factor in explaining why some children fair better than others when parental relationships breakdown.

Offering support to families from any agency is likely to be ineffective where the conflict between parents is not acknowledged and addressed.

Although conflict within families can pass from one generation to the next, this is not solely explained by genetic factors. Rather, it is family environmental factors such as inter-parental conflict which can affect children’s psychological development whether parents and children are genetically related or not.

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