Protecting Young Minds: Shielding Children from Parental Conflict


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As parents, we strive to provide a nurturing environment for our children to grow and thrive. However, when conflicts arise between parents, it can be easy to forget the impact they have on our little ones. Children are often unwittingly dragged into the midst of parental disputes, leaving them feeling scared, confused, and emotionally scarred.

It is essential for parents to recognise the importance of shielding their children from the negative effects of conflict and take proactive steps to create a safe and loving atmosphere.

According to the Children’s Health Journal, children who have been exposed to their parents’ conflict often end up being emotionally distressed and anxious. They feel scared, worried, and uncertain about their safety and well-being, and as such, they end up feeling torn between their love and loyalty to both parents, leading to feelings of guilt and confusion.

Naboth Sserukuma, a boda boda rider from Bulenga, a Kampala suburb, said he had a strained relationship with his parents after they caused him emotional and mental stress due to their arguments.

“While growing up, I often heard and saw my parents quarrel and fight. Every evening, I waited anxiously for what was going to happen when my father returned home. This affected me so much that I reached a point of taking sides with my mother, something that did not go well with my father, who later abandoned us and disowned us. To date, I do not know where he is. My loyalty to my mother cost me my father,” Sserunkuma said.

According to Edinah Busingye, a counsellor in Muyenga, conflict between parents causes difficulty sleeping and nightmares in children. The children may feel anxious, worried, or scared due to the conflict, making it hard to relax and fall asleep. With all the anxiety and stress, they become hyper-vigilant, making it difficult to wind down and fall asleep due to increased stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

Busingye says that children may experience nightmares related to the conflict, such as dreams about parents fighting, separating, or abandoning them. This eventually leads to a struggle to self-soothe and regulate their emotions, leading to difficulty falling asleep or returning to sleep after waking up. In the long run, these repeated sleep difficulties and nightmares, such as insomnia, increase the risk of sleep disorders.

Conflict between parents significantly affects their children’s self-esteem and confidence as they internalise the criticism and negative language used during conflicts, leading to negative self-talk and self-doubt.

They at times feel responsible for the conflict between their parents, leading to feelings of guilt and self-blame, which negatively impact self-esteem. Chronic exposure to conflict leads to emotional dysregulation, making it difficult for children to manage their emotions and develop a stable sense of self, according to the Children’s Health Journal.

This results in a fear of abandonment or rejection due to the conflict, leading to clinginess, anxiety, or people-pleasing behavior.

By prioritising your child’s emotional well-being and taking steps to shield them from parental conflict, parents need to create a nurturing environment that fosters mindful communication, conflict resolution, co-parenting, emotional support, healthy expression, positive role modelling, and seeking help.

Parents have the power to shape their children’s futures. By protecting them from the negative effects of conflict, they are helped to grow into happy, well-adjusted, and successful individuals. Parents should work together to create a safe and loving environment for their children to thrive.

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