How Parental Fighting Impacts Children

How Parental Fighting Impacts Children

Fighting is not the most pleasant part of a relationship, but it is at times unavoidable.

It is a popular opinion that couples that argue actually are more in love than couples that never enter into an argument.  In reality, fighting can be a positive thing if it is done right and resolution is reached by striking an acceptable compromise.  

But what are the effects on the children when parents fight?

Raised voices, bad language, screaming back and forth between parents has an adverse effect on the emotional and mental health of the children.  If done often enough, it can be considered child abuse.

As a parent, you must understand the consequences of fighting in front of your children.  

But since fights are part of a marriage, how can you manage this so that the kids are not scarred for life?

A lot of parents misjudge their children’s level of comprehension, thinking that they are too young to pick up on when they are having an argument.  

Studies show that even infants as young as six months old can sense the tension in a household.

If your babies are nonverbal, you may think they have no idea what you are yelling about when you are screaming at your husband, but think again.  

They feel the distress in the atmosphere and this gets internalized.

Babies may cry more, have tummy upset, or experience trouble settling down.

For older children, parental fighting can have the following consequences

A feeling of insecurity

Your children’s home should be a safe place, a place of love and peace.  When this is disrupted by arguments, the child feels the shift and feels like they have no secure anchor point.  

If fights happen often, the child grows up to be an insecure, fearful adult.

Guilt and shame

Children will feel like they are the reason for the conflict.   

This can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.

Stress about who to align with

Children who witness parental fighting will naturally feel as if they need to align with one side or the other.  They cannot watch a fight and see that both sides seem to be presenting a balanced point of view.  

Many male children will gravitate towards protecting their mother, sensing that the father may have power over her and the child will need to protect her from that.

A bad role model

Dirty fighting presents the children with a bad role model

Dirty fighting presents the children with a bad role model.  

Children live what they learn and will grow up to be bad fighters themselves after living in a household where this was what they saw.  

Children want to see their parents as adult, all-knowing, calm human beings, not hysterical, out-of-control people.  That serves to confuse the child who needs the adults to act like adults.

Effect on academics and health

Because the child’s home life is filled with instability and verbal or emotional violence (or worse), the child reserves a part of their brain to concentrate on trying to maintain some balance and peace at home.  

He may become the peacemaker between the parents.  This is not his role and takes away from what he should be concentrating on in school and for his own well-being.  The consequence is a student who is distracted, unable to concentrate, perhaps with learning challenges. Healthwise, children whose homes are fight-filled are more frequently ill, with stomach and immune system issues.

Mental and behavioral issues

Children do not have mature coping strategies and cannot “just ignore” the fact that their parents are fighting.  

So their stress manifests itself in mental and behavioral ways.  They may imitate what they see at home, provoking fights at school.  Or, they may become withdrawn and non-participative in the classroom.  

Children who are repeatedly exposed to parental fighting are more apt to become substance abusers when they are older.

Let’s explore some better ways for parents to express disagreement.  Here are some techniques that will show good models to their children on how to manage conflict productively

Try to have the argument when the children are not present

Try to have the argument when the children are not present

This could be when they are at daycare or school or spending the night at grandparents’ or with friends.  If this isn’t possible, wait until the children are asleep to get into the disagreement.

If your child witnesses your fighting, they should see you makeup

This shows them that it is possible to resolve and begin again and that you do love each other, even if you fight.

Most of all, learn to fight productively

If the children are witnesses to your parental disputes, let them see how to problem-solve.  

Model “good fighting” techniques


Listen to your spouse’s point, and acknowledge that you understand where they are coming from.

Assume best intentions

Assume that your partner has your best interests at heart, and is using this argument to improve the situation.

You are both on the same team

When fighting, keep in mind that you and your spouse are not adversaries

When fighting, keep in mind that you and your spouse are not adversaries.  

You both want to work towards a resolution. You are on the same side.  Let your children see this, so they do not feel like they have to pick a side.  You state the problem and invite your spouse to weigh in with their ideas for solving the problem.  

Avoid bringing up old grudges

Avoid criticism. Speak from a place of kindness. Keep compromise as a goal. Remember, you are modeling behavior that you want your children to imitate.