Study Finds Children Aren't Distressed When Parents Argue and Solve Conflict

Work it out: in arguments, children learn when parents problem-solve.

ByABC News via GMA logo
December 7, 2009, 8:08 PM

Dec. 8, 2009— -- Conventional wisdom has always held that children suffer when parents argue, but one study has found that it might actually be good for children to see their parents argue if the disagreement is resolved the right way.

Psychology researchers at the University of Notre Dame devised elaborate experiments to test the effects of marital conflict on children.

They set up a home-like environment with cameras, and hired actors to play out arguments, showing children different scenarios of clashing parents.

Researchers tested about 500 children aged 5 to 18 over the course of 20 years, monitoring their reaction to the arguments. Sometimes they took saliva samples from the children to study their levels of cortisol, which is the primary hormone produced by stress.

Researchers found that when the actors played out an argument where the resolution was positive, the children learned from the experience.

"Children actually are not disturbed by it if there are sincere efforts to problem-solve," said Mark E. Cummings, a professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and the lead researcher on the ongoing study. "They actually are happy about it, which surprised us to find that kids would actually say they're happy to see the parents work it out."

Po Bronson, co-author of the parenting book "NutureShock," said he is more likely to resolve conflicts with his wife in front of his two children -- an 8-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl -- to show them that even though he and his wife may disagree, they love each other.

"We do fight in front of the children," Bronson said today on "Good Morning America." Instead of delaying the resolution, Bronson and his wife say "maybe we should start working it out right now."