Arguments are a natural part of family life. However, research has shown that parents often encounter difficulties in their relationships during the first three years of a child’s life. This period can be marked by exhaustion, high expectations, work-related commitments, and other stressors.
Frequent and intense disagreements between co-parents or other adult caregivers, when left unresolved, can negatively impact children’s emotional, social, academic, and even physical development in both the short and long term. See below where we talk through the potential negative life outcomes for children who experience conflict between co-parents.
Babies and Toddlers (0-2 years)
For our tiniest family members, frequent and intense conflict can have distressing consequences. Elevated stress hormone levels, like cortisol, can disrupt foetal development, potentially causing premature birth and lower birth weight. Sleep disturbances may arise, and there might be a higher risk of conditions like ASD. Babies as young as six months old can experience an increased heart rate in response to aggressive behaviour. Toddlers show their distress to loud and hostile arguments by freezing, acting out, withdrawal, and crying, often accompanied by physical complaints like tummy aches, headaches, and fatigue.
Children (5-11 years)
Older children can spot less obvious disagreements between co-parents. They begin to notice subtle signs like avoidance of each other or negative facial expressions. Boys might express their distress through external behaviours like aggression and defiance, while girls may internalise their emotions, leading to anxiety and withdrawal. Their distress can impact their school work and friendships.
Teenagers (12-18 years)
Teenagers possess a deeper understanding of parental arguments, whether they are obvious and loud or less obvious and silent. Due to hormonal changes and brain development, teenagers respond to the distress of parental arguments more emotionally. Arguments between their parents during these years can have long-term consequences, affecting their ability to form healthy relationships and potentially leading to risky behaviours, such as substance abuse and early sexual activity.
Find out more about our SFSC Stronger Relationships Programme here.