Conflict in human relationships is normal, and that includes parent-child relationships. Some degree of conflict between siblings is also normal. Constant or severe conflict, however, can cause chronic stress in a child, and in some cases, may cross the line into child abuse, according to the Hostile-Aggressive Parenting website. A child’s behavior can also be affected by conflict or stress.
Effects of Stress
Stress can be a positive factor in a child’s life when it encourages a child to manage a difficult situation, educational consultant Victoria Tennant notes in an article for the Johns Hopkins School of Education. But stress can also be counterproductive. A stressed child may develop performance anxiety, particularly as it relates to classroom performance. The child may report that her mind goes blank, for example, when she is face with a test. Even though she has studied beforehand and knows the material, test anxiety can prevent her from retrieving the information and her school work suffers.
Children who are stressed can exhibit behavior changes, according to the KidsHealth website. A younger child might start having bladder control problems and accidents at school, or wet the bed at night. She may have difficulty concentrating on her schoolwork, or ask to see the school nurse because she has a headache or stomachache. A child who previously enjoyed school activities may begin to withdraw or eat lunch alone instead of with friends. Other children might develop problems such as lying, bully other children or they may become defiant.
Hostile-aggressive parenting is often characterized by parental conflict and sometimes by parent-child conflict, according to the HAP website. In addition to increasing stress in the child, the child may display anger toward parents and other adults or run away from home. Some children begin to display anti-social behavior characteristics. These may include lying, verbally or physically lashing out at siblings and schoolmates, acting selfishly or displaying serious anger management issues. In school, these children may get into fights, defy school rules or the teacher’s authority, and lie or steal without signs of remorse.
A June 2012 article in "U.S. News & World Report" notes that in most cases, it’s not the fact that fighting occurs in the home -- the impact lies in how the fights are handled. The study tracked 235 middle-class children from kindergarten to 7th grade. When fights were frequent and the parents treated each other harshly, their children were more likely to develop depression, anxiety and behavior issues. Children of parents who were able to avoid harsh criticism, stonewalling or violence and to work out their conflicts in a constructive manner were not bothered as much by family fighting.