Children Need Direct Answers After Interparent Violence

Over 15 million children live in homes in which intimate partner violence (IPV) occurs. “A sizable proportion of these children experience significant mental-health problems, but many appear to experience only mild distress, especially those drawn from community samples,” said Renee McDonald of the Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University. “Parent– child communications about interparent conflict may represent another important dimension of parenting for children who have been exposed to IPV.” Children who witness interparent conflict often express curiosity about the conflict. A number of mothers have reported that if asked, they would explain to their children about the conflict. However, to date, few studies have looked at that behavior to identify the influence it would have on the child’s adjustment. “It seems plausible that mother– child communications about interparent conflict affect children’s understanding of the conflict, and theorists often point to the importance of children’s understanding of their parents’ conflict in influencing children’s adjustment,” said McDonald.

McDonald interviewed 134 mothers who had recently experienced IPV. They assessed the mothers’ responses to their children’s questions, the level of maternal warmth and parent-child aggression twice over a period of six months. “Mothers reported that the most common concern about the conflict expressed by children was why the parents were fighting (75% of children asked about this),” said McDonald. She found that overall, 43% of the mothers either dismissed or ignored the inquiries, 16% answered ambiguously and only 41% of the mothers responded directly to the concerns expressed by the children. “As expected, children whose mothers more directly addressed the content of their children’s questions about interparent conflict had lower levels of externalizing and internalizing problems,” said McDonald. She added, “Clinically, this research might be interpreted to suggest that prevention and intervention efforts designed to alter parent– child interaction in families characterized by IPV may be enhanced by helping mothers more directly address their children’s questions about interparent conflict, rather than avoid, deflect, or dismiss them.”

McDonald, R., Jouriles, E. N., Rosenfield, D., & Leahy, M. M. (2011, December 26). Children’s Questions About Interparent Conflict and Violence: What’s a Mother To Say?. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026122

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  • Bella

    January 4th, 2012 at 10:21 PM

    I can’t imagine a parent ignoring or dismissing such a query from a child.The child is obviously confused and startled to be asking this question and such a reaction from a parent will only leave the child feeling unsecured and vulnerable.

  • Julieann

    January 5th, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    I know that there are bound to be some questions, but how much do you think that a child really needs to knw? I mean this could be so devastating to them, even if they don’t see the violence. But to learn that someone that they love has hurt the other person in their lives that they probably love more than anything? I cannot even imagine how they could process that, or that there is anything that anyone could say that would help them to understand. I am an adult and can’t fathom how someone could do this to someone else. And think about the ruin that this could cause in their lives in the future, not really having a good idea of how people in love are really supposed to treat one another.

  • molly d

    January 5th, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    you may think they don’t understand n you can just say “nothin” n move understand things.they need to know why it happened.add to that d fact that kids nowadays r more aware than we were at their age n not giving them answers is only shooting yourself in d foot.

  • T.Nicholas

    January 5th, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    Who are these ppl who fight and get violent in their children’s presence?First off they need to be given some parenting lessons and then the issue of conflict can be taken up.Getting violent in front of your little child sounds horrible.

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