Conflict in relationships is inevitable. People living together under one roof where each must rely on the other(s) for something. Each person has different needs and preferences and, each is subject to different stresses. At some point, the individuals are bound to come into conflict. But as I’ve mentioned before, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Through arguments or disagreements, we learn about ourselves and others. We learn about empathy, compassion and service. We learn how to better meet our needs, as well as those of others through collaborative behaviour. Conflict creates the conditions for learning.
However, when conflict continues unresolved, or escalates to the point where people lose sight of their own behaviour and its impact on others, or when emotions go unmanaged and the conflict is causing harm, fear or danger, it can be destructive and can interfere with attention and mood. This is especially true for children. The impact of interference on attention and mood may differ depending on the age of the child.
An infant can be affected as demonstrated by sleep disruption, problems feeding and even diaper rash; the result of upset tummies creating loose runny stools or alternately constipation. They may also appear inconsolable as if affected by colic.
Toddlers may have difficulty managing their own behaviour, toileting and sleeping. They may be more prone to hitting or alternatively, they may withdraw.
Preschoolers may show behaviour similar to toddlers and may also be more fearful at times of separation from a parent. Preschoolers may seek to avoid the parents and hide at times of overt conflict, and others may be drawn into the conflict seeking to help the parents stop fighting.
School-age children may have similar issue as the preschoolers, as well as difficulty concentrating at school. They may also be withdrawn or alternatively, more aggressive, and some may actually be more focused on academic achievement with the secret belief that this may have a positive effect on the parental conflict.
Teenagers may appear sullen or anxious. Some may take to drugs or alcohol to cope, and others may engage in promiscuous behaviour seeking to use sex to gain emotional security.
Unremitting, unresolved and severe conflict can have disastrous effects on a child’s development, behaviour and mental health. If you are in a relationship marked by distressing conflict, do seek help for yourself to mitigate the harm that may befall and affect your kids.