Be Careful What you Teach
It is my experience that most parents truly care about how conflict in divorce affects their child. Parents are sad for their lost childhood peace. They are compassionate and want to support their kids. For parents who are not reflecting enough on the impact to children when parents continue in conflict, here are a few notes on that. Children learn. First, let me remind you that children are aware of conflict whether you say anything or not. That is because, when you have an attachment relationship with them, they are “attuned” to you at a very neurological level. It is important to remember that a parent’s anxiety can be “caught” by the child increasing their own worry. This is a function of two brains mirroring; communicating on a very deep and implicit level. They implicitly sense tensions, discord, a parents anger and hurt regardless of how well we try to cover it. When the conflict between parents actually involves the child, even more problems occur. In either case, please understand your child is more isolated. If you have not heard me scream it from the mountaintops yet- ISOLATION is the enemy. Children need our support and mindfulness towards their experience. Children learn to cope, with or without support and some ways are healthier than others. Children post- divorce or with ongoing conflict may find themselves working to maintain support while parents work out their needed changes. When parents are upset with one another, they can be placed in-between, even without our meaning this outcome. They may lose support from one parent because they see them less. Attachment relationship that have formed are still biologically wired into the child, however changes may impact these relationship to be less predictable, have less shared time and leave the child feeling alone. They learn if we are there for them. Reduced “trust” in a parent may develop as things have become less predictable. You may see their stress come out in changed behaviors and withdrawing.
In cases where a parent is very distraught or overtaken with the conflict, the child may become more the caretaker or partner to the parents. They may fulfill roles of caring for other children or the household. This is not always a bad thing and research shows that some children find a self confidence in helping out.
Children caught between to parents in ongoing conflict suffers from increased risk for depression, anxiety and a multitude of issues from increased self harm, drug use, school problems, early sexual behavior to adult mental health and relationship problems.
When parents, argue, outfight fight or even have ongoing tensions and cold silence of disagreement. Divorce and conflict can bring the kindest most balanced parent to behave in ways that are not typical. We are often at our worst, and sometimes in front of our kids.
What is one thing we can do today?
Remember, that when you interact with your partnering parent, you model for your child how to behave in conflict. You show the how to arrive at decisions when compromises or boundaries are made. When you are at the end of your patience they learn how to cope. The old song “Be careful little eyes what you see…” is truly the opposite. Let’s try “Be careful caring parent what you teach.”