Good quality relationships important to child development

Parents’ relationships between each other and with their children are important for children’s cognitive and emotional development and the stability of families.

Good quality relationships between parents and between parents and their children can make a significant difference to young people’s satisfaction with their family situation.

Relationships clearly matter to children, according to research based on Understanding Society – the UK’s Household Longitudinal Study6. While 60 per cent of young people said they were ‘completely satisfied’ with their family situation, satisfaction varies with the quality of the parental relationship. For example, in families where the child’s mother is unhappy in her partnership, only 55 per cent of young people say they are ‘completely happy’ with their family situation compared with 73 per cent of young people whose mothers are ‘perfectly happy’ in their relationships.

Of the variables that affect young people’s wellbeing, researchers find two to be particularly important: the frequency with which children quarrel with their parents; and the extent to which they discuss important matters with them. Children who don’t quarrel with either parent more than once a week, and who discuss important matters with one or other of their parents at least occasionally, have a 74 per cent chance of being completely happy with family life. Children who quarrel more than once a week with their parents and don’t discuss important matters with their parents have only a 28 per cent chance of rating themselves completely happy with their families.

UK social researchers and policymakers recognise that parents’ relationships with each other and with their children are important for children’s cognitive and emotional development and the stability of families. Understanding more about what works best for children could lead to higher child wellbeing.

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