Few parents want their children to hear them arguing. But new research suggests it may be OK as long as the parents handle disagreements in a constructive way.
University of Arizona investigators looked at how parents manage conflict with each other, and the way in which this affects their parenting styles.
Olena Kopystynska, a graduate student in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and lead author on the paper, also investigated how emotionally secure children feel after being exposed to conflict between their parents.
Kopystynska’s study focuses on constructive versus destructive styles of conflict management.
In constructive conflict management, there is calmness and respect, despite a difference in opinion; the conflict stays focused on one topic; and progress is made toward a resolution. When conflict is handled destructively, there is anger and resentment, and the argument often strays off topic to things that may have happened in the past.
Kopystynska and her colleagues found that when even one parent handles conflict with a partner destructively, it can leave children feeling more emotionally insecure about their home life.
“Children are very good at picking up on little nuances of how parents interact with each other, so it really matters how parents express and manage their daily life challenges because that determines children’s confidence in the stability and safety of their family,” Kopystynska said.
“If parents are hostile toward each other, even children as young as three years old may be threatened that their family may be headed toward dissolution. They may not necessarily be able to express their insecurities verbally, but they can feel it.”
Kopystynska’s study is based on national data collected for the Building Strong Families Project, which targeted low-income families; a population that could be at high risk for conflict, given the many stressors associated with financial strife.
Parents in the study were mostly unmarried and had just conceived their first child at the start of data collection, which was done in three waves.
Kopystynska focused on the third wave of data, collected when the children in the study were three years old. Mothers and fathers were surveyed at that point about their perceptions of their conflict management behaviors with each other, and how their children react emotionally when they witness conflict between their parents.
While similar studies have relied only on data from mothers, the inclusion of fathers helps provide a more complete picture of what’s going on, Kopystynska said.
Kopystynska and her co-authors identified four different profiles of the couples surveyed:
The researchers also looked at supportive and harsh parenting behaviors, as measured through direct observations of each parent separately interacting with his or her child.
Supportive behaviors might include making positive statements, being sensitive to the child’s needs, and engaging the child in cognitively stimulating ways. Harsh parenting might include forceful or intrusive behaviors or expressions of anger and dissatisfaction toward the child.
Researchers found that fathers’ parenting styles did not seem to be affected by how they managed conflict with their partners. In other words, fathers interacted with their children similarly in all profiles.
Yet, mothers in the profile in which fathers handled conflict constructively and mothers handled conflict destructively tended to be harsher with their children than mothers in the profile in which both parents handled conflict constructively.
As far as the impact on children’s emotional insecurity, researchers found that when one parent handled conflict destructively and the other constructively, children’s emotional insecurity was higher than what was reported for children whose parents both handled conflict constructively.
“What we found is that when parents are using constructive conflict management, the children feel less insecure about their family climate, and when at least one parent argues destructively, there are some levels of insecurity about the family relationships,” Kopystynska said.
Kopystynska points out that a common misconception is that most low-income families are at risk for dysfunctional behaviors — yet, very few couples in the study were entirely destructive in their conflict management styles.
In fact, only three percent of couples in the sample included two partners who handled conflict destructively, suggesting that most couples in the sample participated in healthy and positive conflict patterns.
“There is often a belief out there that if you are a low-income family, you probably have a lot of dysfunction, but over 50 percent of the couples we looked at were arguing constructively,” Kopystynska said.
“Considering all the stressors they’re dealing with, the majority of them still have a good, functional relationship, at least when it comes to conflict.”
The fact that the group in which both parents were arguing in destructive ways was so small might help explain one surprising finding of Kopystynska’s study — that emotional insecurity levels were lowest for children of these parents.
Also contributing to that finding could be the fact that those couples may have broken up and physically separated from each other by the time the data was collected, meaning that children may not have been as directly exposed to their parents’ interactions, Kopystynska said.
“Parents who were in the concordant destructive group were less likely to stay together, so they were probably not in the same home, so children were probably not exposed to that interparental conflict,” said Kopystynska, whose co-authors on the paper were University of Arizona faculty members Drs. Melissa Barnett and Melissa Curran, along with Dr. Katherine Paschall of the University of Texas at Austin.
In general, Kopystynska said, it’s important for parents to be aware of how they interact with each other, and remember that conflict shouldn’t necessarily be avoided but handled in a way that makes a child feel less threatened.
“Not all conflict is bad — it’s about how you manage it,” Kopystynska said.
“Given that children are going to encounter conflict out there in the real world, exposure to some conflict can be beneficial. However, it’s really how parents handle that conflict that sets the tone for how safe children feel, and may further promote similar conflict management behaviors for when children are confronted with conflict of their own.”
Source: University of Arizona
While it is common for kids to experience anxiety as they go back to school, new research finds parents also experience a variety of stress provoking concerns.
University of Michigan researchers polled 2,051 adults — including 1,505 parents of children ages zero to 18 — from a nationally representative household survey, and discovered bullying and cyberbullying were the major source of parents’ list of worries.
Close behind were internet safety and stress, motor vehicle accidents, and school violence.
But investigators discovered worries differed among racial groups. For example, African-American parents were most concerned about racial inequities and school violence affecting their children.
“Adults across the country recognized bullying, including cyberbullying, as the leading health problem for U.S. children,” says Gary Freed, M.D., M.P.H., a C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital professor of pediatrics and the poll’s co-director.
This is the eleventh year the Mott Poll has surveyed a national sample of adults on the top 10 health concerns rated as a “big problem” for children and teens. For the first time, this year parents were also asked to rate health concerns for their own children.
“When it came to their own kids, parents’ biggest child health concerns depended on their children’s ages,” Freed says.
“For example, for parents of children ages zero to five, cancer was rated as a top health concern even though pediatric cancer is quite rare. Parents may have concerns about very serious conditions despite the small risk for them.”
As more children have access to the internet and social media, many parents also expressed concerns about their children’s safety online.
Experts have raised concerns about how cyberbullying may impact children’s mental health, with anxiety, depression, and even suicide being linked to this type of harassment. Vulnerability to online predators is also a risk.
“Parents should regularly discuss internet safety with their children and teens and ways to prevent problems,” Freed says.
“Simple effective strategies may include not providing personal identifying information on social media, chat platforms, or in shared gaming environments.”
Motor vehicle accidents — which are the leading cause of death for children age two to 14 — were also of great concern to all groups of parents. In 2015, more than 650 children died and more than 120,000 were injured in crashes.
Self-talk is common, a kind of an internal dialogue commonly used to moderate anxiety before a potentially stressful event. But not all self-talk is equally effective, and that is where the notion of “self-distancing” comes in.
New research suggest a self-distancing language, such as using the third person, can help us see ourselves through someone else’s eyes and can lead to improved confidence and performance.
“Being a fly on the wall might be the way to put our best foot forward,” said researcher Dr. Mark Seery, an associate professor in the University of Buffalo’s Department of Psychology and an expert on stress and coping.
“And one way to do that is by not using first-person pronouns like ‘I’. For me, it’s saying to myself, ‘Mark is thinking this’ or ‘Here is what Mark is feeling’ rather than ‘I am thinking this’ or ‘Here is what I’m feeling.’ It’s a subtle difference in language, but previous work in other areas has shown this to make a difference — and that’s the case here, too.”
Mark Seery, a University at Buffalo discovered that taking a “distanced perspective,” or seeing ourselves as though we were an outside observer, leads to a more confident and positive response to upcoming stressors than seeing the experience through our own eyes.
In the new study, investigators applied cardiovascular measures to test participants’ reactions while giving a speech. Researchers told 133 participants that a trained evaluator would assess a two-minute speech on why they were a good fit for their dream job.
The participants were to think about their presentation either with first-person (self-immersing) or third-person pronouns (self-distancing).
While they delivered their speeches, researchers measured a spectrum of physiological responses. Parameters included heart rate, and heart volume (how much blood the heart is pumping and the degree to which blood vessels dilated or constricted).
The data helped investigators correlate the self-talk perspective to data on whether the speech is important to the presenter and the presenter’s level of confidence.
“What this allows us to do is something that hasn’t been shown before in studies that relied on asking participants to tell researchers about their thoughts and feelings,” Seery said.
“Previous work has suggested that inducing self-distancing can lead to less negative responses to stressful things, but that can be happening because self-distancing has reduced the importance of the event. That seems positive on the face of it, but long-term that could have negative implications because people might not be giving their best effort,” he said.
“We found that self-distancing did not lead to lower task engagement, which means there was no evidence that they cared less about giving a good speech. Instead, self-distancing led to greater challenge than self-immersion, which suggests people felt more confident after self-distancing.”
The findings, with co-authors Lindsey Streamer, Cheryl Kondrak, Veronica Lamarche and Thomas Saltsman, are published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Source: University of Buffalo