The Effects of Parent-Child Conflict

By Melody Causewell
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Conflict within families can be difficult for parents and children alike. Parent-child conflict may increase risks for a number of adverse emotional issues and problems with conflict resolution. It is important to understand the issues that may arise from these types of conflicts in order to provide appropriate intervention so families can heal.

Conflict Resolution Issues

The way conflicts are handled at home has an effect on how adolescents resolve conflicts in other social groups, according to research out of the Netherlands. Published in the "Journal of Family Psychology" in 2011, conflict resolution styles used at home between children and parents remained consistent with those they used at school with friends and vice verse. This suggests that parental-child conflict -- and the way those conflicts are resolved -- spills over into other relationships and provides a basis for future conflict resolution style, which may put children with negative models at home at a distinct disadvantage in their social circles.

Increased Aggression

Family conflict may increase certain types of aggressive behaviors, according to 2010 research. This study, published in the "Journal of Interpersonal Violence," found that more frequent parent-child conflict was associated with increases in proactive aggression -- such the initiation of aggressive conflicts -- in anxious children. These results were furthered by a twin study out of Michigan State University, which found that parent-child conflict predicts conduct issues, such as aggressive tendencies, more reliably than genetics. This study, published in the "Journal of Abnormal Psychology" in 2011 went on to note that while conflict may contribute to aggression and conduct disorders, conduct disorders do not predict additional conflicts, suggesting that the conflict precedes conduct issues. Understanding that conflict between parents and children can increase aggression and conduct problems in children may help parents and professionals to identify the underlying issues in order to intervene effectively.

Suicide Risk

Parent-child conflict may increase thoughts of suicide, according to research published in the "Journal of American College Health" in 2013. In this Emory University School of Medicine study, researchers looked at the link between depression, anxiety, parent-child relationships and suicidal thoughts in undergraduate college students. They found that those children with higher levels of conflict with their parents had higher rates of suicidal thoughts. Indications that conflict between parents and their children may increase thoughts of suicide led researchers to suggest that parent-child conflict be taken into account during suicide risk assessment.

Externalization Problems

Conflict between parents and children may contribute to problems with externalizing issues in childhood, according to University of Minnesota research published in the journal "Archives of General Psychiatry" in 2003. This study found that parent-child conflict predicted attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiance and conduct disorders, all disorders involving higher externalization, or acting out behaviors. Children who have problems with externalizing may benefit from intervention that looks at family conflict as well as the more blatant conduct symptoms.

About the Author

Melody Causewell has been a writer in the mental health field since 2001. She written training manuals and clinical programs for mental health organizations. She has published feature articles "Leaven" magazine and has been published in "Natural Awakenings." She has a degree in psychology, a Masters degree in social work and is a La Leche League leader.