Research suggests that parents who report having a positive, affectionate relationship with their partners tend to engage in more positive parenting activities like playing, reading or singing with their children.
A mom or dad who feels loved is more likely to have the energy and patience that effective parenting requires. If you are worn out by chronic conflict, disappointment over broken agreements or feeling lonely in the relationship, you will likely have a lot less patience for another game of “Candyland.” Getting your basic emotional needs met in a positive relationship with your intimate partner means you are more emotionally available to your child. When your attachment needs are met, you are less likely to over-react to your children’s challenging behavior. When your own emotional bank is full, or at least not on empty, you simply have more to give in ways that children need.
One study asked children to answer the question: “How can you tell if a couple is married?” A common response was, “If they are arguing, they are probably married.”
Conflict in an intimate relationship is expected but how frequently, how intense and where those disagreements take place have a powerful effect on children. When children sense tension between parents, children will tend to worry about that tension. It may actually distract them from the business of childhood – learning and growing.
Children are excellent perceivers and terrible interpreters. They notice everything going on around them, but then they make up stories about it that are inaccurate. Kids are developmentally narcissistic – that is, they see the world as centered around them. The problem with this natural narcissism is that when something goes wrong, they most often tell themselves it is because they have caused it by not behaving well enough or not otherwise measuring up. They believe they cause the disturbance and try to solve the problem.
Children often act out their emotions and misbehave or try to be perfect because they are anxious about the adults’ relationship issues is common. They may become perfectionists or display tantrums, aggression, non-compliance or lose interest in school. Kids may also try to figure out ways to shut down their uncomfortable emotions by begging for more screen time, overeating or hoarding food, or other attempting escapes from overwhelming emotions.
Parents in positive relationships with their partners are more able to offer children a sense of stability and security. Bickering, angry, bullied or lonely parents are models of relationships that children will likely replicate in their adult lives. If you are in a difficult relationship, consider seeking support, if not for yourself then for your children. Often adults in difficult relationships grew up with parents who were also struggling. Sometimes it is just a matter of learning new ways to communicate and recognize your own and each other’s needs more effectively. You can stop the legacy of unhappy relationships and impart to your children a sense of well-being and optimism about what love means today and in their future.
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