Exposure to verbal and physical aggression between parents may hurt a child’s ability to identify and control emotions, according to a longitudinal study led by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
The findings, which appear in the journal Development and Psychopathology, also suggest that household chaos and prolonged periods of poverty during early childhood may take a substantial toll on the emotional adjustment of young children.
"Our study points to ways in which aggression between parents may powerfully shape children’s emotional adjustment," says C. Cybele Raver, professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author. "Arguing and fighting is psychologically stressful for the adults caught in conflict; this study demonstrates the costs of that conflict for children in the household as well."
Research has demonstrated that exposure to conflict and violence in the home can shape children’s neurobiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses. Increased hypervigilance may support children’s safety in the short term, but can be detrimental for their long-term emotional adjustment. For instance, children who hear or witness their parents fighting may have trouble regulating their emotions in less risky situations, such as a classroom.
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