The way that parents manage their conflicts can have deep, lasting effects on their child’s emotional security. Conflagrations are bad. Resolvable disagreements are good. Interestingly — especially for men who have been chastised about anger issues — male conflict management styles, good and bad, don’t seem to correlate to parenting style. According to a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Family Psychology, the way that men interacted with their children was largely unrelated to how they interact with their partners.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Anger Management
University of Arizona researcher Olena Kopystynska looked at the way parents handle conflict with each other, focusing on constructive versus destructive styles of conflict management. In constructive conflict management, parents may disagree on a topic, but they remain respectful and focused on calmly moving towards a resolution. Destructive management, on the other hand, is pretty much what it sounds like – an angry, bitter argument that often strays to things that happened in the past, making it harder for parents to resolve. Kopystynska and her colleagues, not so shockingly, found that destructive conflict styles can leave children feeling more emotionally insecure, even if just one parent acts destructively.
But Kopystynska’s research is particularly compelling for men struggling with anger because it indicates that supportive and harsh parenting behaviors are a totally different thing than partner conflict. It’s possible, to sum up the findings a bit too concisely, to be a bad husband and a good father (though being a bad husband is an act of poor parenting). Supportive parenting behavior might include positive statements, sensitivity towards a child’s needs, and engagement with a child in cognitively stimulating ways. Harsh behavior might take the form of anger and dissatisfaction toward their child. Angry husbands do the former. Calm husbands do the latter. Harshness does not beget harshness.
Interestingly, this finding wasn’t the same for women. In the study, mothers who handle conflict destructively tended to act harsher with their children than mothers who use a constructive conflict style. And, at the end of the day, it’s okay to have conflict in a relationship. Says Kopystynska: “It’s really how parents handle that conflict that sets the tone for how safe children feel.”