Effect of divorce on child - resolving conflict

Resolving the martial conflict when parents are in divorce can be a positive effect of divorce on child. So what makes conflict OK? How do you manage conflict? Some points to consider:

What makes conflict OK and could be a positive effect of divorce on child: Anger and conflict are normal

  • Seeing the parents resolve problems and disagreements, and recover from angry exchanges may be helpful to children.
  • Parents should argue to work out differences when necessary, but also include resolution, and even apologies (a simple, “I'm sorry” from both will do) in front of the children to let them know all is well again.
  • Arguments resolved behind closed doors can still communicate resolution if the hostility is gone and some sign of affection is exchanged in front of the children.
  • Explanation of the fight when possible and appropriate can also be helpful.

What is harmful are repeated, frequent, angry and conflicted exchanges that do not lead to resolution and greater peace. This may even be compounded by high levels of conflict that existed in the family before the divorce. In high conflict families, the children become sensitized to anger and conflict, and thus are “hyper sensitive” to it.

Worst of all effect of divorce on child, however, is clearly verbal aggression that turns physical. Research has linked this to the greatest degree of behavioral and emotional problems.

What does conflict make not OK and could be a negative effect of divorce on child: Children are sensitive to conflict

  • Children are sensitive to the conflict in the marriage, and after a divorce may become even more sensitive to it, especially if the children have shown attachment problems with the absent parent.
  • Children may suffer from role reversals with their parents and social problems with their peers because of their difficulty regulating their emotions. It is as if they exert all their emotional control in the home, and have little left for the school and playground.
  • Some people mistake 'conflict' for 'yelling and hollering.' The 'cold silent treatment' is just as obvious to children, since parents who suddenly do not speak to each other, or who are no longer affectionate with each other mark a significant change in a child's eyes.
  • Children of Different Ages Respond in Different Ways:
    • Very young children become distressed and may cry, express fear, or show anxiety. They may have nightmares, engage in regressive behavior, and appear to 'back up' to a much younger age. They are less likely to intervene to stop parents, but more likely to try to distract them from fighting with needy or inappropriate behavior, or to withdraw and become dejected. If you want relief for your anxious child, you could try The Anxiety-Free Child Program
    • At age five or six, children begin to intervene directly, expressing desires that parents stop, or that the arguing makes them unhappy. They may become 'little adults' in an effort to stabilize the family as well, but it unclear as to how much this predisposes them to suffer emotional problems in later life. They may be more likely to become enmeshed and experience reversal of roles and social problems, as noted above.
    • Teens may be more likely to mediate, and may also become more distressed because they can realize more completely the severity of arguments.
  • Boys and girls respond differently
    • Younger boys may show more acting out, aggressive, and 'hyperactive behavior.' Girls may show more withdrawing and dejection, or 'little adult' behavior that is unlikely to draw the same level of attention that a boy's wild and uncontrolled behavior does.
    • Around the teen years, girls may report feeling more anger and boys more sadness.

So how do you argue effectively? Points to consider for positive effect of divorce on child:

  • Express Your Needs Clearly
  • You do this by focusing on single issues and presenting just the facts, leaving out attacks on your ex-partner's character or behavior
  • State your feelings in straight-forward "I" language.
  • Focus on the immediate situation, and don't bring up old feelings and hurts from the past. Don't make below the belt comments to emotionally bash the other person into doing what you want.
  • State your wants clearly too.
  • This includes what you are willing to offer in return. Good timing is sometimes everything Practice and Rehearse
  • Try out what you plan to say with someone objective, and listen to their pointers on how to rephrase or clarify. Practice being calm while they throw angry comments at you if you want

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