You don’t have to stop arguing, just argue better

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New research shows the psychological fallout between couples expressed through regular arguing can lead to long-term mental health problems and physical symptoms in children including headaches, stomach pains and even affect the rate at which they grow.

The review, Parental Conflict: Outcomes and Interventions for Children and Families examines the differences between ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ conflict and how both kinds affect children, why some children are more adversely affected than others.

The research also shows that family relationship patterns can be passed on from one generation to the next, and that conflict can affect family life by influencing the way couples parent, as well as how children understand and make sense of this conflict.

Destructive conflict such as sulking, walking away, slamming doors or making children the focus of an argument can have a detrimental impact on their development.

Children exposed to such conflict between parents are at a greater risk of a range of negative outcomes including social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.  However, children react better when parents can relate to each other more positively during arguments, and when conflicts are resolved.

Co-author, Dr Catherine Houlston, said: "We know that conflict is a normal and necessary part of family life. It’s not whether you argue but how you argue which matters most to kids.

"‘Evidence suggests that working with couples at an early stage in their relationship or during times of change we can modify destructive patterns of conflict behaviour.

‘Practitioners and those working regularly with parents are in a key position to identify families in need."

Co-author Professor Gordon Harold, Andrew and Virginia Rudd Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex said: "Today's children are tomorrow's parents.

"The psychological fallout from homes marked by high levels of inter-parental conflict can lead to negative behaviour and long-term mental health problems that repeat across generations.

"Effective intervention can help to break this cycle, improving outcomes in the short and long term."

School Leadership Today
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