How Much Does Parental Arguing Affect Our Children?

Most Moms will be familiar with this. Have you ever noticed that when you are having a bad day that is the same day your infant is also having a bad day? In other words, when Mom is feeling stressed or depressed the baby is crying more, more demanding or more fussy? The reason for this is that infants are so strongly emotionally connected with you that they are actually feeling what you are feeling.

More research evidence has recently proven this to be true. In a recent article in Science Daily entitled “Arguments in the home linked with babies’ brain functioning” researchers found that infants are so sensitive to parental emotions that “they respond to an angry tone of voice even when they are asleep’! Beyond this, they discovered that “infants from high conflict homes showed greater reactivity to a very angry tone of voice in brain areas linked with stress and regulation of emotion”. Their conclusion is that even as infants we are not oblivious to parental conflict and exposure to conflict may actually impact the way a baby processes emotion and stress.

In doing marital therapy I can’t tell you how many times a parent has said to me “Yes we do argue a lot but we never do it in front of the kids so they are not affected by our arguing”. My response is always the same–they are more aware and more affected than you realize. Children do not have to witness parental arguments to be profoundly affected. Even when they are in their room or asleep they sense that something is not right. Although it is true that as children grow older they are not as attuned to a parent’s feelings and mood as a newborn baby might be, they are still attuned enough that they absorb and feel your feelings.

In addition, children model their parents. So if you deal with conflict by arguing, your children will also learn to deal with conflict by arguing. Here are some techniques to limit arguing in the home:

–When you disagree, do a role reversal. Instead of trying to convince your spouse that your point of view is correct try to find the merits in their point of view.

–Never attempt to resolve a disagreement in the heat of anger. If you are angry, table the discussion for another time when you can discuss things calmly.

–Create a pros and cons list based on the different points of view and discuss these pros and cons

–Always keep in mind that frequent arguments do harm your children and use that insight as a way to emotionally regulate yourself and stay calm.

–Also keep in mind that children repeat what they see. If you want them to learn self control you, as parents, must model self control.

So remember, healthy ways of disagreeing result in healthier, happier and more confident children!

Lawrence Ross Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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