Parents who often fight with one another or ignore their spouse in front of their children may do well to resolve their differences constructively, according to two recent studies. Researchers at the University of Rochester and Catholic University have confirmed earlier findings by Notre Dame psychology Professor E. Mark Cummings that parental conflict can have a lasting negative impact on a child’s development.
Cummings and the Rochester and Catholic University psychologists all found that the way in which parents manage everyday conflicts has a profound effect on a child’s sense of security and that, in turn, affects future emotional development.
“A useful analogy is to think about emotional security as a bridge between the child and the world,” Cummings says. “When the marital relationship is functioning well, it serves as a secure base, a structurally sound bridge to support the child’s exploration and relationships with others.
“When destructive marital conflict erodes the bridge, children may lack confidence and become hesitant to move forward or may move forward in a deregulated way, unable to find appropriate footing within themselves or interaction with others.”
In the studies, researchers found that when parents engaged in such behavior as personal insults, defensiveness, marital withdrawal, sadness or fear, the later result for their children often was emotional insecurity, depression, anxiety and behavioral problems.
Earlier work by Cummings and his colleagues suggests that when parents constructively work through their differences with problem-solving techniques and compromise, and express physical affection and positive feelings, a child’s sense of security may actually increase.