Parental Conflicts Create Child’s Problems

Marriage problems linked to emotional insecurity of young children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) A child’s first glimpse of the world is through his or her parents. These early experiences will significantly shape who he or she become later in life, and marital problems may have long lasting negative effects.

Marital conflict during a child’s kindergarten years can affect the emotional security of the child, according to a new study.

Emotional insecurity, then, can lead to further problems in adolescence like depression and anxiety.

"Reassure your child if conflicts takes place in the home."

"Emotional insecurity appears to be an explanation for the effects of marital conflict on children's later problems," said E. Mark Cummings, PhD, professor and Notre Dame Endowed Chair in Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. "This mechanism lasts across relatively long periods of time and across the transition between childhood and adolescence."

There were 235 middle class families who participated in the study, 197 of which completed the study, which lasted 7 years. Of those, 88.6 percent of couples were married at the start and 36 couples divorced during the study.

The families were asked to complete two 2.5 hour assessment sessions while the child was in kindergarten, second and seventh grades. Parents participated in problem-solving exercises to assess parental conflict. They also used the Conflicts and Problem-Solving Scale to self report on parental conflict.

A child’s emotional security was assessed via the Security in the Marital Subsystem - Parent Report Inventory and the Child Behavior Checklist to assess child’s emotional security.

What the team found was that those children who experienced greater parental conflict were more likely to show signs of emotional insecurity.

The researchers believe that emotional insecurity in children can lead to greater behavioral problems in adolescents.

"The results further highlight the possibility that there will be persistent negative effects of children's early experiences when there is conflict between their parents, at least when their emotional insecurity increases as a result of the conflict," adds Cummings.

The study was published online June 13, 2012 in the journal Child Development and was funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 14, 2012
Last Updated:
October 22, 2012