"The wellbeing of our children depends on how family conflicts are resolved"


Invited by the Centre for Demographic Studies (CED), Professor Mark Cummings of the University of Notre Dame offered a conference at the CED-UAB headquarters located on the Bellaterra Campus. He is the director of the Notre Dame’s Family Studies Center and co-founder of the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families.


"One must negotiate and talk until an agreement is reached. Sometimes these conflicts even can be positive, if they are resolved in a constructive manner".

Professor Mark Cummings has been awarded the prestigious Urie Bronfenbrenner Award from the American Psychological Association, both for his scientific contributions in the field of developmental psychology and for his efforts in applying them to society. He was invited to speak on 28 June by the UAB Centre for Demographic Studies (CED).
- You are considered to be the creator of a very important and influential theory in psychology known as the Emotional Security Theory. Of what does it consist?
- It consists of parental conflicts affecting the wellbeing of their children. Conflicts between parents can happen daily, but the difference lies in how the conflict is taken on and resolved. That is what deeply affects children who must live with conflict.
- What will your conference at the CED-UAB be about?
- I will speak on the evaluations and studies we conducted which demonstrate that destructive types of conflicts between parents can be reduced and constructive conflicts increased in order to increase the wellbeing of children. We have applied these interventions in different parts of the world such as the United States and Palestine.
- What are destructive parental conflicts?
- There are different degrees ranging from physical aggressions to insults and negative comments. All of this creates negative emotions in boys and girls, such as sadness, insecurity, fear. The post-conflict period is also important: solving a conflict by banging the door shut and leaving, or with an unresolved explanation such as "all right", is not effective because the conflict continues to be latent.
- How can the conflict be solved then?
- Conflicts exist in all families (and personal relationships), but they must be confronted constructively. The well being of the children depends on how family conflicts are resolved. One must negotiate and talk until an agreement is reached. Sometimes these conflicts can even be positive, if they are resolved in a constructive manner. They can help to face things differently in the future and bring the parents closer together.
- How did you develop your concept?
- I began studying all of this in 1980, but I developed the theory in 1994 after conducting several studies. I spent a lot of time working especially in Belfast.
- And is the concept valid worldwide? I suppose in developing countries the family's priority is more focused on surviving and subsisting...
- Yes, of course it is valid! It is valid anywhere in which there is family conflict. There are mothers and fathers and sons and daughters in all parts of the world. It is true that conflicts are different depending on the country or culture, but we are all persons and we all have conflicts.
- As director of the “Notre Dame’s Family Studies Center”, what are the studies conducted there?
- Different aspects of families, depressions related to the family environment, states of anxiety in parents and children, etc. Depression is the consequence of a series of factors, and what need to be prevented are the situations leading up to depression. There are factors that increase the risk. For example, in families with children who have Down's syndrome or are autistic, the parents are more likely to suffer from depression. These mothers and fathers need help in accepting this reality so that it does not lead to a state of anxiety and insecurity which can lead to a depression.
- Have you noticed differences when it is the mother or father who is suffering from depression? Does this affect children differently?
- All the research we have refer to depressions in mothers, there is no data on fathers. As a psychologist I can say that the effects of one of the parents being depressed, regardless of which one, affects children equally. The problem is that until now no one has studied it.
- Why not?
- I do not know. Because men, and therefore fathers, also have depressions! But there are no studies or research looking into it; it is strange, but this is the truth. The studies have always focused on depressions affecting mothers and their effects on children. In any case, even if there are fathers who suffer from depression, it is something that cannot be dealt with negatively. In this case, receiving support and help from the parent who is not depressed is the most important thing.
- Where have you conducted your interventions?
- In many places, the United States, Croatia, Palestine, Ireland... Italy, Wales, Chile, and we have found similar effects everywhere. The programme we devised helps all members of the family, parents and children. In Spain, I have studied the subject with Sílvia Barroso, a professor in Corunna working in divorce issues, but we have not yet developed the theory.

- In a globalised world, where the children are the future and at the same time they are the most vulnerable individuals, what can we do as a society?
- Support must be given to the family, they must feel secure. If the parents work well together, the family feels safe. We must recover the value that was once given to the family. It must be made stronger and policies to help the family must be created. For example, the most important factor for children after a divorce is how parent solve their conflicts. A divorce does not eliminate the existing conflicts, so there is a need to continue working to solve them constructively and make them affect children, mothers and fathers the least possible. For this reason, it is useful and necessary, as a society, to have personal tools which can solve these problems that affect the wellbeing of children.


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