Environmental factors play a huge role in whether your kids grow up to be healthy, successful adults. One of the biggest factors is the relationships of their parents.
While there isn’t a set recipe for ensuring achievement and happiness, psychology research has pointed to a handful of factors about marriage, divorce, and the interaction within a relationship that can predict a child’s success.
Here’s some of what we know:
Mild to moderate conflict that involves support, compromise, and positive emotions in front of the kids can help them develop better social skills, self-esteem, and emotional security, which can help parent-child relations and how well they do in school, E. Mark Cummings, a developmental psychologist at Notre Dame University, tells Developmental Science.
'When kids witness a fight and see the parents resolving it, they're actually happier than they were before they saw it,' he says. 'It reassures kids that parents can work things through.
According to the researchers, destructive conflict can also take on more passive forms, like avoidance, walking out, sulking, withdrawing, or capitulation.
Cummings said kids pick up on when a parent is giving in to avoid a fight or refusing to communicate, and their own emotional response is not positive.
'Our studies have shown that the long-term effects of parental withdrawal are actually more disturbing to kids' adjustment than open conflict,' he says. He explains they children in this instance can perceive that something is wrong, which leads to stress, but they don't understand what or why, which means it's harder for them to adjust.
Chronic stress from repeated exposure to destructive conflict can result in kids that are worried, anxious, hopeless, angry, aggressive, behaviorally-challenged, sickly, tired, and struggling academically.
Destructive conflict between parents can be detrimental to a child's psychological and physical well-being
Cummings and his colleagues site a number of examples of destructive conflict, including: verbal aggression like name-calling, insults, and threats of abandonment and physical aggression like hitting and pushing.
Various research, according to Developmental Science, links homes with high levels of conflict to children having more physical health problems, emotional problems, and social problems later in life including vascular and immune problems, depression and emotional reactivity, substance dependency, loneliness, and problems with intimacy.
If you divorce when your kids are young, they're more likely to have poor relationships with you when they're adults
If you split up with a spouse when your kids are between three and five years old, your kids are more likely to have an insecure relationship with you when they're adults, especially if you're their father, according to a University of Illinois study. However, the divorce of parents doesn't predict insecure romantic relationships when kids become adults.
Several studies have shown a correlation between traumatic childhood experiences like witnessing domestic abuse and eating disorders.
The correlation may come down to psychology and physiology.
Traumatized children may turn to overeating as a form of self-medication since food can be a comforting escape.
And chronic stress caused by repeated traumatising events can lead to consistently elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol, which tells the body to deposit fat and store energy.
According to a University of Illinois study review, following divorce, custodial parents (mostly
mothers) generally have less income than most two-parent families. Due to limited economic resources, children in single-parent families may have more difficulties.
People who grow up in lower socioeconomic classes, for example, end up with a lower working memory -- or the ability to hold multiple items in their minds -- in adulthood, suggests a University of Oregon study.
Usually, with the combination of two paychecks and the pairing down of household expenses, married couples tend to earn a higher income than single-parents families.
According to Stanford University researcher Sean Reardon, the achievement gap between high- and low-income families 'is roughly 30% to 40% larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier.'
'Absent comprehensive and expensive interventions, socioeconomic status is what drives much of educational attainment and performance,' he wrote.
Kids that grew up witnessing their parents abusing drugs or alcohol probably ended up being the parent to their parents.
Because they skipped childhood altogether, they might become super-serious and not know how to have fun as an adult. They also tend to be overly responsible, says Portland Lifestyle Counseling.
Divorce can result in multiple life changes and stressors for kids, like a change in living arrangements.
One study from Western Washington University found that the more often children in single parent families moved, the more likely they were to drop out of school or become pregnant during the teen years.
Various research analysed by Scientific American suggests that, while kids tend to experience feelings of anxiety, anger, shock, and disbelief shortly following their parents' divorce, overall, most children of divorce fair well in the long run.
As children of divorce progress into their teenage years, their levels of academic achievement, emotional and behaviour problems, delinquency, self-concept, and social relationships aren't all that different from kids from intact families.
'When a child grows up in a home that is loving in many ways -- through physical touch, kind words and deeds, thoughtful acts of service for one another -- they will naturally be drawn to a life partner who holds these qualities,' behavioural therapist Cara Day tells P&G Everyday. 'It will become the child's barometer for what a spouse should be because it is what he knows.'
Psychologist Susan Orenstein also tells P&G Everyday that expressing affection to a partner can help kids feel more secure and stable at home, allowing them to enjoy being a kid.
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