Friday, December 11, 2020

5 ways in which unstable family relationships harm children

Posted By on Fri, Dec 11, 2020 at 4:45 PM

Any family faces conflicts from time to time, no matter how strong or tight-knitted it is. Fights are normal and sometimes even beneficial if the conflicting parties compromise or eliminate the cause of a misunderstanding. But when family life turns into constant arguments between spouses, this is already an unhealthy situation, which harms children the most.

Conflicts are not always an absolute evil — in some cases, they help partners get rid of the accumulated fatigue and irritability. They can serve as an activator to reload the normal state of mind. On the other hand, continual disagreements can have devastating consequences, leading to depression, anxiety, and even violent behavior.

A young family is the most prone to conflicts since they do not have a lot of life experience compromising and making relationships work. According to, 46% of all divorces are filed by couples who have been married for 1 to 5 years. It’s during these first several years that a family is going through its formation period. Some families successfully overcome the initial difficult period, while others either break up or continue living in constant quarrels.

Unstable relationships between parents cause serious harm to children’s psychological health, which then adversely affects different aspects of their lives. The family can act as both a positive and a negative factor in the child’s upbringing. In an unstable environment, the child develops insecurity, low self-esteem, and problems communicating with peers.

Features of unstable family relationships

Family conflicts are a rather painful and acute issue of our time. Crises occur in any family, but their number and severity are different. The incentives are associated with the desire to satisfy specific needs, avoid negative impacts, and protect individual interests without considering the partner’s needs.

The main aspects of family conflicts include:

  • direct connection to the crisis periods of family development;

  • constant proximity conditioning;

  • the high degree of emotional involvement;

  • the presence of moral obligations to the spouse;

  • adverse effects on the health and mental state of the participants;

  • the constant tension between the family members.

Crises in the family have a sharply negative effect on the child. Other difficult life situations such as poverty, parental divorce, moving to another city, serious illness, or growing up in life-threatening conditions are constant sources of stressful childhood experiences.

Below you can find five main problem areas in a child’s life affected by family conflicts.

Emotional instability

Children are very susceptible to parental quarrels. The strength and depth of the reaction depend on the child’s age, experience gained so far in the family, and character, temperament, and sensitivity. The emotional, behavioral, and social development of children also suffers when parents ignore each other and don’t communicate for a long time.

Children experience a crisis differently than adults. They often become more withdrawn, taciturn, and even completely lose the ability to speak due to increased nervousness. In complicated circumstances, they can also experience the emotions of terror, fear, and suffering. The consequence of such an impact on the child’s psyche may be the inability to adapt to social norms and the emergence of antisocial behavior.

Health disorders

Any conflicts that arise in a family between spouses in front of a child create a traumatic experience, becoming a source of various neuroses and even mental illness. Studies based on long-term observations show that children have their heart rate increased during a home conflict situation. At the same time, their body produces a stress hormone called cortisol, which in large quantities suppresses the immune system and causes sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue.

Children of different ages may show impaired brain development, sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, behavioral, and other serious problems. In comparison, children whose parents can agree with each other and resolve controversial issues have fewer or no such manifestations.

Formation of negative personality traits

Conflicts and constant quarrels in the family affect a child’s behavior in several different ways. Some children develop the desire to be inconspicuous, hide, and escape from reality. They are afraid to provoke disapproval by their behavior. It leads to even greater passivity in the child, making it difficult for them to build useful communication patterns.

Other children implement demonstrative behavior to attract their parents’ attention. It is a feature of the child’s personality associated with feelings of abandonment. Emotional behavior manifests in mood swings, hysterics, malicious actions, and aggression.

Low self-esteem

Parents often transfer their dissatisfaction with each other to the child. Negative feelings are often redirected to children in the form of intolerance, mistrust, and even physical punishment. A child growing up in such an atmosphere develops low self-esteem due to a constant lack of confidence. Children also tend to blame themselves for conflicts in the family. As a result, a sense of guilt, which is destructive for the child’s psyche, can become a psychological trauma source.

Problems with academic performance

Children raised in families with unstable relationships have a slow pace of mental and intellectual development, low emotional range, and imagination, which adversely affects school performance. Due to chronic psychological trauma, the child does not master the educational material well. Consequently, a low level of educational achievement leads to a loss of motivation. Instead of realizing the real reason for poor academic performance, parents repeatedly push the child, making them feel imperfect and worthless.


Unpredictability and chaos prevailing in the family cause the absence of a clear line of behavior for children. It is difficult for them to learn how to behave since their actions are evaluated, not objectively, but according to their parents’ current mood. Spouses with serious difficulties must learn to find compromises for the sake of their children because their future depends on it.

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