Opinion & Debate

Published on January 28th, 2014 | by Kelly Rose Bradford


Don’t stop rowing in front of the kids – just do it better

‘Not in front of the children’ is generally the maxim where rowing parents are concerned – the belief being that family conflict leaves kids upset and with divided loyalties.

Yet new research suggests where those relationship-based flare ups are concerned, we don’t have to stop rowing altogether, but instead, do it better.

Researchers found that conflict and feuds are a normal part of being in a relationship, and children needn’t suffer if their parents’ arguments are executed effectively. The findings are published in Parental Conflict: Outcomes and Interventions for Children and Families, a Policy Press publication in association with relationship charity OnePlusOne

The report’s authors examined the differences between ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’ conflict and how both kinds affect children. They found that conflict can affect family life by influencing the way couples parent, as well as how children understand and make sense of this conflict, and how 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.

They also discovered that youngsters who are exposed to their mum and dad’s conflict are at a greater risk of a range of negative outcomes including social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. However, it was found that children react better when parents can relate to each other more positively during arguments, and when conflicts are resolved.

Co-author, Dr Catherine Houlston, from OnePlusOne, said that conflict was a ‘normal and necessary part of family life’ and that it was not ‘whether you argue but how you argue’ which matters to children.

“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,” she said. “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 added that ‘today’s children are tomorrow’s parents’ and that the psychological fallout from homes marked by high levels of inter-parental conflict could 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,” he said.

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About the Author

Kelly Rose Bradford

is a London-based journalist and broadcaster, writing for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sunday Telegraph, and a host of women's magazines. Her robust opinions and feisty debating skills make her in demand as a social commentator, regularly guesting on ITV's This Morning programme, and across many radio stations, including 5 Live and BBC Radio London.

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