Duty is seldom sweet. It is only when love greases its wheels that it runs smoothly; it is a continuous friction otherwise. How else could parents do their duties to their children, husbands to their wives, and vice versa? Do we not meet with cases of friction every day in our lives? Duty is sweet only through love, and love shines in freedom alone. Yet is it freedom to be a slave to the senses, to anger, to jealousies and a hundred other petty things that must occur every day in human life? In all these little roughnesses that we meet with in life, the highest expression of freedom is to forbear. Women, slaves to their own irritable, jealous tempers, are apt to blame their husbands, and assert their own ‘freedom’, as they think, not knowing that thereby they only prove that they are slaves. So it is with husbands who eternally find fault with their wives. –‘What is Duty?’; Karma Yoga: Swami Vivekananda
It is an established fact that parents who physically or emotionally abuse their children do them lasting damage, mainly by undermining their ability to trust others and accurately read their emotions.
But what about the children of parents who experience simple, everyday conflict? The question assumes great importance in the scenario of increased nuclearization of family.
A recent research published the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that the emotional processing of these children, too, can be affected, potentially making them over-vigilant, anxious and vulnerable to distorting human interactions that are neutral in tone, throwing them off-balance interpersonally as adults.
“The message is clear: even low-level adversity like parental conflict isn’t good for kids,” said Alice Schermerhorn, an assistant professor in the University of Vermont’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the lead author of the study.
Schermerhorn sees two possible interpretations of the results. If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones. In any case, they may simply present greater processing challenges. Alternatively, the children may be more tuned into angry interactions, which could be a cue for them to retreat to their room. For such kids, neutral interactions don’t offer much information, so they may not value them or learn to recognize them.
Shyness Compounds Problem
The study is also one of the first to measure the impact of temperamental shyness on the children’s ability to process and recognize emotion.
The shy children in the study, who were identified via a questionnaire given to the mothers of the study subjects, were unable to correctly identify couples in neutral poses, even if they were not from high conflict homes.
Shyness also made them more vulnerable to parental conflict. Children who were both shy and felt threated by their parents’ conflict had a high level of inaccuracy in identifying neutral interactions.
“Parents of shy children need to be especially thoughtful about how they express conflict,’ Schermerhorn said.
Implications for adulthood
The research results are significant, Schermerhorn said, for the light they shed on the impact relatively low-level adversity like parental conflict can have on children’s development.
Either of her interpretations of the research findings could spell trouble for children down the road. “One the one hand, being over-vigilant and anxious can be destabilizing in many different ways,” she said. “On the other, correctly reading neutral interactions may not be important for children who live in high conflict homes, but that gap in their perceptual inventory could be damaging in subsequent experiences with, for example, teachers, peers, and partners in romantic relationships.”
“No one can eliminate conflict altogether,” she said, “but helping children get the message that, even when they argue, parents care about each other and can work things out is important.”
Couple these findings with the words of Swami Vivekananda we quoted in the beginning of this article: In all the little roughnesses that we meet with in life, the highest expression of freedom is to forbear. We might have an answer to the increased social problems (especially of youth) such as violence in India, as well as the repeated school and college mass shootings in the USA.
 Alice C. Schermerhorn: Associations of child emotion recognition with inter-parental conflict and shy child temperament traits. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2018; 026540751876260 DOI: 10.1177/0265407518762606
 Based on the article: University of Vermont: ‘Parental conflict can do lasting damage to kids.’ Science Daily: 28th March 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180328083402.htm>