I remember, as a very young child, perhaps six or seven years of age, sitting on the stairs listening to my parent’s violent arguments going on downstairs. These would sometimes result in my mother becoming completely hysterical and running out of the house, threatening to never come back. If I was ever caught doing this, I would be severely told off for ‘eavesdropping.’
Of course, many children have to endure such things, and worse, as a result of animosity between their parents and, reflecting this sad fact and the adverse effect such experiences can have on the child’s psychological development, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) or DSM -5 (sometimes referred to as the ‘psychiatrist’s bible’) has incorporated a new condition (in the section: ‘Other Conditions Which May Be a Focus of Clinical Attention’) named: ‘Child affected by parental relationship distress’ (CAPRD).
Children can be affected by warring parents in many different ways and the researchers, Althoff and Martin (2016) in an article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry outlined what they regarded as the four main ones which I list below:
Children may be affected by:
- parental intimate partner distress
- parental intimate partner violence
- acrimonious divorce (see my article: Acrimonious Divorce May Harm Children’s Immune Systems).
- unfair disparagement of one partner by another (this can lead to parental alienation – see my articles on parental alienation syndrome and how children can be used as pawns or weapons)
The authors of the study also point out that children are not only affected emotionally by the conflict between parents but also physically (e.g. children may somaticize their psychological suffering by developing stomach problems, headaches, etc. cognitively (children’s academic performance may suffer behaviorally (e.g. children may ‘act out’ their distress)
The addition of this condition (CAPRD) into DSM-5 should help to further highlight to clinicians the importance of clinicians being aware of the child’s domestic situation when treating his/her mental health.
On A More Positive Note:
Some research into conflicted families has focused on RESILIENCE and has found that with healthy parenting and good parent-child relationships psychological harm done to the child can be minimized both before and after separation and, although the risk to the child cannot be eradicated, children who are exposed to moderate parental conflict followed by a healthy resolution may benefit in learning how to resolve their own conflicts with significant others in later life.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)