Guideline for family problems / PREVENTING: 1.3 Limiting their children’s exposure to conflict
During the orientation process of the available literature, we were able to identify one intervention, this being: limiting the exposure of children to severe parental conflicts.
For children, is actively limiting the exposure of children to severe parental conflicts more effective than not doing this for their well-being?
The databases used are: HeinOnline, Westlaw, Wiley Online Library, JSTOR and Taylor & Francis. For this PICO question, keywords used in the search strategy are: communication, parental conflict, separation, divorce, children.
Quality of evidence and research gap
The article by Sanders, Halford and Behrens is based on a detailed observational analysis of couples’ interaction. The article by Afifi, McManus, Hutchinson and Baker bases its findings mostly on clinical and empirical evidence. The article by Schrodt and Afifi uses both empirical and meta-analysis to support its findings. According to the HiiL Methodology: Assessment of Evidence and Recommendations, the strength of this evidence is classified as ‘low’ to ‘moderate’.
Adaptive communication behaviours can be learned. Therefore, the problems that children face as a result of exposure to a parental conflict can be prevented (Schrodt, p. 62). In this regard, training children in cognitive and behavioural skills might be beneficial. If the training is extended to parents, they are able to become aware of how communication impacts others.
If children are to try and make sense of their parents’ disputes, then becoming privy to additional information relevant to such disputes and marital conflicts may increase their satisfaction and mental health by reducing the uncertainty and stress associated with making sense of it all (Schrodt, p. 223).
Children’s exposure to marital conflicts can place them in an uncomfortable position as mediators (Schrodt, p. 204). When parental disclosures produce role changes or make them feel caught between their parents, it may result in psychological and behavioural problems for adolescents (Afifi, McManus, p. 81). When parental separation is associated with exposure of children to severe parental conflict, this means children also get exposed to models of maladaptive conflict management behaviours (Sanders, p. 61). When children take over these interaction habits, then they are put at greater risk for relationship problems as adults (Sanders, p. 61).
In determining whether actively limiting the exposure of children to severe parental conflicts is more effective for their well-being than omitting this, the desirable and undesirable outcomes of both interventions must be considered. The literature suggests that exposure to marital conflicts has negative effects on children’s well-being. It can place them in the position of a mediator and it can make them feel caught between their parents. Moreover, exposure to a marital conflict can have negative consequences to the well-being of children in the long term.
On the other hand, children need to make sense of their parents’ marital conflict. Therefore, the balance between outcomes is not entirely clear.
Despite the unclear balance of outcomes in terms of children’s well-being, we make the following recommendation: For children, actively limiting the exposure of children to severe parental conflicts is more effective than not doing this for their well-being.
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