The way in which parents communicate has consequences for all family members, especially the well-being and emotional security of children. Regardless of marital status, parental communication is at the heart of family functioning.
Research shows that the manner in which parents interact shapes children’s reality and how they understand the world. Importantly, this pattern of interaction propels children’s own development of internal communication schemas that they will use in-and-outside of family context. (Cheung et al., 2016) The greater the ability of parents to share responsibilities and support one another, the better the outcomes for their children’s well-being and psychosocial adjustment. (Feinberg, 2003)
Constructive communication, as characterized by engaging in collaborative and conflict-resolution techniques, is associated with “better adolescent outcomes, including increased prosocial behavior, autonomy-promoting behaviors, and relatedness to peers.” (McCoy et al., 2009) When children are exposed to functional communication patterns, they are more likely to feel emotionally secure as well as acquire adaptive problem-solving skills.
Conversely, hostile and antagonistic coparental interaction destabilizes children’s emotional security and has deleterious consequences for their overall adjustment. (McCoy et al., 2009) That is, emotional insecurity has been shown to predict maladaptive adjustment, such as aggressive behaviours and decreased ability to self-regulate emotional responses to stressors. (McCoy et al., 2009)
Marital dissolution triggers a wide range of issues. It is disruptive of emotional, cognitive and physiological systems. It depletes parents and children of critical reserves necessary to respond in a functional manner to stressors; and it increases the risk of domestic violence. As such, when experiencing separation and divorce, it is imperative to recognize and be aware of the complex interplay of these dynamics. Acquiring and establishing a functional communication pattern is of paramount importance for parents and children’s well-being.
Interparental discord is part of life, and children will most likely be exposed to some unpleasant interactions. Research has shown that it is not the conflict that threatens the children’s well-being; rather, it is leaving it unresolved. Given that children not only react to conflict but also to how it is managed, evidence suggests that it is important for parents to find ways to work things out in a positive manner. Engaging in and exposing children to interparental conflict resolution techniques will not only teach fundamental skills that they will need for their own future conflicts, but it will also provide them with a strong sense of security and emotional well-being. (Davies & Cummings, 1994)
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