Parents Who Quarrel ‘Risk Harming Their Kids’

Bearing a grudge, walking away and slamming doors puts kids at greater risk of long-term mental health problems, a study finds.

Warring parents who fail to resolve their disagreements are putting their children’s mental and physical health at risk, according to new research.

Experts claim exposure to family feuds can cause physical problems in youngsters such as headaches, stomach pains and reduced growth.

The study by relationship charity OnePlusOne looked at the differences between destructive and constructive conflict within the family home and examined the effects.

Destructive conflict, such as sulking, walking away, slamming doors or making children the focus of an argument, puts youngsters at greater risk of a range of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, the study found.

Children react better when parents can relate to each other more positively during arguments and when conflicts are resolved, it said.

Dr Catherine Houlston, co-author of the book, Parental Conflict: Outcomes And Interventions For Children And Families, said: “We know that conflict is a normal and necessary part of family life.

“It’s not whether you argue but how you argue which matters most to kids.

“Research suggests that over time, the impact of being exposed to arguing between their parents can put children’s physical health at risk.

“Evidence has shown that headaches, abdominal pains and even reduced growth can be brought on by the insecurity a child can feel by seeing their parents at war.”

However, not all arguing has a negative outcome.

Dr Houlston said: “If a child sees his or her parents in conflict then work things out they understand it’s possible for difficult situations to be resolved and they feel more secure.

“Evidence suggests that working with couples at an early stage in their relationship, or during times of change, we can modify destructive patterns of conflict behaviour.”

University of Sussex Professor Gordon Harold, co-author of the book, added: “The psychological fallout from homes marked by high levels of inter-parental conflict can lead to negative behaviour and long-term mental health problems that repeat across generations.

“Effective intervention can help to break this cycle, improving outcomes in the short and long term.”

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Parenting programmes can aid families and save social care money

The Centre for Mental Health’s Building a Better Future report says conduct disorders cost public services £5,000 per child per year

Parenting programmes can play a central role in dealing with conduct disorders among children and deliver significant savings for public services including social services, according to a Centre for Mental Health study.

The centre’s Building a Better Future report makes the case for greater use of parenting programmes as a means to deal with moderate and severe behavioural problems among children that cost public services an estimated £5,000 per year for each child.

The centre, which has also released a briefing on the issue for children’s social workers, says that serious behavioural problems affect as many as one in four children aged five to 10 years old.

According to the study, the estimated lifetime costs of severe conduct disorders is £260,000 per child and while most of the cost occurs within the criminal justice system, they cost children’s social services an estimated £600 per child per year.

It says that since parenting programmes, such as Triple P and Incredible Years, cost in the region of £1,300 per child and have proven effective in helping parents manage their children’s behaviour and reduce family stress they represent good value for money.

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “This substantial piece of work illustrates the overwhelming evidence for investment in early intervention in the form of parenting programmes.

“Not only does it shine a light on the economic benefits, which makes ripples across a number of different budgets in the public sector, but it looks at the important experience of parents.”

The centre’s associate director for children and young people, Lorraine Khan, added: “Talking to parents about their first-hand experience of behavioural programmes has shown us just how helpful they have found attending parenting support groups. Well-run programmes make a real difference in people’s lives, often relatively quickly.”

In its briefing for social workers, the centre recommends the use of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire tool to identify if children could benefit from parenting programmes. The questionnaire, says the centre, can also help build evidence of the need for local authorities to commission parenting support.

It also says that social workers will improve their chances of getting parents to engage in parenting programmes if they focus on the benefits for the child rather than problem behaviour, stress that everyone can learn parenting tips that make life easier and emphasise the non-judgmental approach of parenting programmes.

Having a central gateway for all referrals of vulnerable children and families can also help, says the briefing.

The report found that children who have conduct disorders are six times more likely to die before turning 30, are eight times more likely to be on the child protection register and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.

Click here to download the report

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