Study finds having parents who fight a lot actually changes children's brains 1 year ago

Study finds having parents who fight a lot actually changes children's brains

Even in the happiest of relationships, times will come when a bit of a scrap or a row is inevitable.

And while I think that a good old heated discussion is healthy (I mean, we all have to let off steam every now and again), once there are children involved, there are things you have to remember when you fight.

To young children, hearing parents disagreeing and raising their voices to each other can be scary and confusing, so explaining that sometimes mums and dads fight too, just like they might do with their friends from time to time, is important. Take time to explains to your children that just because you get angry or frustrated with each other, it does not mean that you don't love each other. Show them how you say sorry and make friends.

Another thing to remember is to keep discussions clean. Name-calling or saying things that are uttered with the only intent of being hurtful or mean is not something you want to resort to, both for the sake of your children and also for your whole relationship. Some things can never be unsaid, or, for children, unheard.

However, if your fighting happens more than just every now and again, and you find yourself up in arms with your partner frequently over one or more issues, be aware of the actual damage this is doing to your children, warns experts.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, growing up with parents who frequently argue can actually change children's brains, making them worse than their peers at processing emotion and at risk of facing greater social challenges than kids from less combative homes.

Researchers at the University of Vermont first categorized families' home environments as high- or low-conflict, based on questionnaires by their mothers. Using an EEG test that measures the ability to give meaning to stimuli, they then measured the children's brain activity when they looked at photos of couples in angry, happy, and neutral poses.


And the children from high-conflict homes showed far more brain response to the angry adults than the low-conflict group. That could be because the scenario felt similar to a situation where parents are fighting at home, explains study author and assistant professor Alice Schermerhorn.

"They're being watchful in the home in the same way that they're watching for angry faces in the research setting," said Schermerhorn in a statement.

A Similar brain response was found in the high-conflict kids when they saw happy faces — but had been asked to identify angry ones. "The pattern suggests children from high-conflict homes, by training their brains to be vigilant, process signs of interpersonal emotion, either anger or happiness, differently than children from low conflict homes."

That hyper-awareness could lead to problems in social relationships, warns the study authors, who also say additional conclusive testing is needed.

Tell us, do YOU ever fight around your kids? Or do you strive to keep arguments to after bedtime only? How do you talk to your kids about adults arguing? Let us know in an e-mail at