"If mom and dad leave the room happy, have a fight and then come back into the room upset, kids typically will infer that it's something they did to cause their parents' unhappiness," Murphy says.
Research has shown that kids as young as 3 years old pick up on tension between parents. When children are upset by fighting or tension, they may act out or freeze or become very clingy.
The important conclusion of this study is that when a child is acting out or having problems in school, parents are often called in and offered help with their parenting skills. This study shows that it's more important to focus on the couple's relationship with each other, to get the marriage in shape.
Boys and Girls React Differently
When there is conflict between parents, there are differences in how children react depending on their sex: Boys tend to withdraw, and girls try to get involved, Murphy says. This places more of a burden on the children, because they blame themselves if fights continue to flare up.
Murphy offers the following tips for parents:
Count to 10 or leave the room to keep from arguing when you are very upset. If you do get angry, reassure your children by telling them that fights happen, but you do love each other and it's not the children's fault. Make up, but don't fake it. Children will know if you are faking.