How Dads Manage Conflict Has A Huge Impact On Their Kids

A new study found that the way that parents — especially dads — manage relationship conflict has a huge impact on their children.

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Young tattoed mother and father with newborn baby sitting in their kitchen and having fun together
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Arguments are a natural part of parenting. There are simply so many decisions to make, expectations to contend with, and various stressors that you’re bound to argue with your partner or co-parent about everything from scheduling issues and discipline styles, to how the dishwasher is loaded. Never mind butting heads with in-laws about leniency or frequency of visits.

The important thing is, of course, to hold yourself accountable, follow good communication basics, and maintain a level of calm when having disagreements or full-on arguments. And when you do have higher-pitched arguments, to engage in proper repair. This isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary. A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology emphasizes this, as it found that how you handle interpersonal conflict with others plays a much larger role in your child’s socio-emotional development than previously realized.

“More important than the occurrence of conflict is how people manage it.”

For the study, Qiujie Gong, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and his team analyzed data from 3,955 families to determine the impact of conflict resolution strategies on child development. The data was collected as part of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, a database from the U.S. Department of Education. All the families represented had preschool-aged children and fathers who lived in the home.

The researchers found that children with fathers who reported frequent marital conflict were less involved and less loving with their children and also reported higher parenting stress. Children of these fathers scored lower on socio-emotional assessments than other children.

However, researchers also noted that when fathers engaged in “constructive conflict resolution,” even if fighting was happening frequently, the negative impact on the child’s socio-economic development was lessened.

“More important than the occurrence of conflict is how people manage it,” Gong said in an interview with PsyPost. “If parents could adopt more constructive conflict resolution strategies, this could significantly alleviate the detrimental effects of interparental conflict on their children’s development.”

So what does constructive conflict resolution look like in practice? Conflict resolution is all about communication — not just communicating your own feelings, but really listening to what your partner is saying and responding with intention, not with anger. One popular option, the LARA method, offers an easy-to-follow roadmap:

  • Listen to understand your partner, not just to jump in and respond
  • Affirm that you understand where they are coming from — even if you disagree
  • Respond in a multi-pronged way: repeat what they say, ask follow-up questions, and engage respectfully
  • Add Information by sharing your own perspective

Sure, in the moment, following this may be far easier said than done. But paying attention to the words you say during a conflict, and trying to diffuse the situation instead of intensifying it, will get you on the path to repair much faster. Focus on “I” statements. Listen intently. Don’t dredge up the past. And try to remember that it’s you two against the problem, not you two against each other.

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