Reducing Parental Conflict - Information for Professionals
Offering support to families from any agency is likely to be ineffective where the conflict between parents is not acknowledged and addressed. You are probably aware of the importance of being vigilant for signs of domestic abuse, but what if the issue is more about frequent, intense and poorly resolved parental conflict.
We often find it uncomfortable to ask personal questions about relationships but there is increased evidence on the importance of the parental relationship to children’s outcomes. Whether the parents are together or separated, parental conflict can affect children’s emotional, behavioural, social and academic development. It is the conflict between parents, rather than the event of parental separation or divorce, that is a key factor in explaining why some children fare better than others when parental relationships breakdown.
Conflict is a normal and necessary part of family life. However, when conflict is handled in a destructive rather than constructive way it can have negative consequences for parents and their children.
Parental conflict places children at risk of:
Poor relationships with staff and peers in school and their community leading to lower academic outcomes
Lower employability leading to financial difficulties and an increased risk of poverty
Earlier involvement with drug and alcohol misuse
Negative impact on neurobiological processes affecting emotional development and can lead to conduct disorder, poor attachment and risk-taking behaviours.
A range of health issues including sleep disorders, digestive problems, abdominal pains, fatigue, headaches and poor growth.
Poor mental health which carries on into adulthood.
Increased risk of poor adult relationships
We want practitioners to feel comfortable talking about family relationships so that families become more aware the impact their relationship has on their children. This will ensure that referrals are made to specialist services for support at an earlier stage and limit the negative impact on children and parents.
Watch this video to explain parental conflict, the impact on children and how local authorities can help.
Reducing parental conflict on the Isle of Wight
We are working with partners on reducing parental conflict and supporting families earlier so conflict doesn’t lead to lasting damage for families. We have trained over 80 practitioners from a variety of organisations including a train the trainer programme and want to encourage anyone working with families to attend this free training.
In light of the current Coronovirus (COVID-19) situation, this training is more important than ever.
Economic pressure and psychological distress are major factors associated with parental conflict. As restrictions are eased and practitioners are going back into family homes again we need you to be mindful of the increased pressure on families at the moment. Some families will be struggling because they are having to spend more time at home together, there may be added financial pressures from job losses, reduced pay and concerns about how safe their job will be in the future. Their support networks may be limited, and they may feel more isolated causing anxiety that could impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
Some of these parents may have had their first baby during lockdown with limited support available from family, friends and meeting new parents in groups. A time that we know puts increased pressure on any relationship.
For more information about our professional development opportunity and to learn more about reducing parental conflict please view our Reducing Parental Conflict leaflet.
Reducing Parental Conflict (RPC) training
FREE RPC E learning
This training that can be completed at a convenient time and pace and is split across 4 modules with most people expected just to complete modules 1-3.
Module 1 explains the evidence this training is based on and the outcomes for children
Module 2 explores how to recognise the signs of parental conflict at the early stages. It highlights how to support parents in finding constructive outcomes which are shown to provide positive lessons for children to learn such skills as negotiation and compromise.
Module 3 explores how to engage in conversations about relationships and discuss parental conflict. It provides tools and techniques to use with parents to resolve conflict with positive outcomes.
Module 4 is aimed at practitioners with managerial or supervisory responsibilities only.
If you would like to access this learning please send an email with your details to firstname.lastname@example.org and registration information will be sent to you.
When we co-parent it can initially place additional pressure on the family as we adapt. The parent who remains in the family home is faced with assisting him or herself and the children in dealing with “what is not there anymore”— and a loss of the way things were. Although this can be easier than starting over, staying in the family home is not without challenges. The sadness and loss may be more disguised but not less important.
The parent who moves out, his/her first new living situation is usually temporary, or makeshift in some way — and is often followed by a second transition later, when finances are more stable. This can be challenging in the first 6 to 12 months when trying to establish routines with your children and a sense of home.
When both parents move into new living situations, the children are simultaneously saying goodbye to their family home while creating a new sense of home with each parent. Having simple, occasional check-ins with your children on how they are feeling opens the door for sharing feelings and acknowledging the loss and change.
The most important thing to remember is that success comes with a strong foundation of respect to build on. Respect is an essential part of parenting after a separation or divorce and co-parents must ensure that this is evident in both words and behaviour.
It can be helpful to regard your former partner as your co-parent rather than your ex which defines the relationship around an absence or former role rather than an active current role.
Redefine your relationship with your former partner through your shared goal – raising happy and healthy children together. This can keep your co-parenting relationship on a positive and cooperative path.
Expect mistakes to happen sometimes, learn from these and move forward. Mistrust within co-parenting can manifest as being intentional or calculated which will cause further breakdown and conflict. Be prepared to be flexible and give the benefit of the doubt for an occasional mistake.
“Let me think about that” is a great phrase to use when discussions become negative or you need more time. Emotions are frequently hurt during a separation and this can trigger our defensive responses. Using this phrase allows us time to think and reflect before we respond which can prevent further conflict.
When a new partner arrives.
No matter how long you have been separated it can be challenging when a new partner comes along as a new partner entering the lives of your children is a big deal. They will grow closer to your child and become more involved. You may feel left out or threatened by this new relationship and the bond your child has with them.
Don’t discourage this affection or bad mouth your co-parent or their partner in front of your child. It may make them feel the need to choose sides and will cause them stress, confusion and sadness.
Embrace the additional support of someone new supporting your child and becoming a key figure in their lives. Children thrive in a supportive network and really will get the best of both worlds.
Dealing with Loss
Having a partner who is grieving can be very challenging for your both. You may be both experiencing it and dealing with it differently. Some people want to talk, and others prefer to shut themselves away. The nature of grief can also be different depending on the person’s relationship and the circumstances of how they died. If it was sudden or unexpected or if there were issues in the relationship, they can be left with unresolved feelings. People can be left feeling angry and this is often directed to the people closest to them. Try to be patient and adapt to their needs and emotions.
Ask them every couple of days how they are and if there is anything you can do to help or support. They may not know what they need it but they will get comfort knowing that you care. Starting conversations like this are sometimes difficult but communication is key at this time.
5 Stages of Loss
- Denial and isolation – denial is a common defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions
- Anger – can be expressed as anger at the person who has died, anger for them leaving us and anger at ourselves for feeling this way
- Bargaining – If only statements like” If only we had sought medical attention sooner….” We start to believe that we could of done something differently to save them.
- Depression – Initially this can be fuelled with sadness and regret and prepares us to separate from the loss
- Acceptance – To make peace and adjust to life without them.
We will go through these at our own pace and levels of intensity and often move around depending on what else is going on our life. We will revisit these stages in future bereavements and some of us will never reach stage 5.
What can you do to help?
Communication is important and starting conversations can be difficult but key at this time.
Ask them if there is anything you can do to help or support? They may not know what they need but they will get comfort knowing that you care.
Be patient with them and understanding of the emotional rollercoaster they may be on and don’t take their anger or sadness personally.
Keep an eye out for their health and wellbeing and if you are worried let them know and suggest they perhaps get some professional help for their grief.
Dealing with difficult/challenging behaviour
Behaviour is a form of communication. When a child is well behaved, they are feeling loved, happy, content and safe. Challenging behaviour is often sending out a different message and stems from environmental and emotional issues in their life. and the challenge for parents is to understand what this is.
Challenging behaviour in a child stems from a variety of environmental, emotional and biological issues in their life. All children exhibit difficult behavior from time to time due to the stresses of daily life. This can include parents, who through lack of knowledge or the stresses of life, struggle to implement consistent rules and consequences and inconsistent discipline or are too critical.
Attention seeking – Children may display difficult behaviour if they are feeling left out or are not getting enough love and attention as any attention is better that being ignored.
Independence – As children get older they want to be independent and will test boundaries
Life changes - Children thrive on routine. When life changes occur--including a new sibling, starting or changing schools, death of a relative or even the addition of a new pet--children may display negative behaviours.
An inability to verbalise their emotions or a fear of the unknown may cause children to make poor choices.
A child may become loud, aggressive, defiant or noncompliant
Keep calm – displaying anger and frustration will make things worse.
Body language – be aware of this and the tone of your voice when you are communicating. Children need us to remain calm and model the behaviour that we are looking for.
Rules – talk about the behaviour and agree how you will deal with it and support your child. Children will be very aware of any communication difficulties and will use them to play off parents against each other to get what they want.
Be consistent – if you are living together or apart remember it is important to be consistent. This will show your child that you are working together and will probably ease some of the unwanted behaviour.
Becoming a new parent or having a new baby is one of the biggest changes to any relationship. It is a period of transition that will impact on your relationship together and your individual lives. Having a baby may not have been planned and you may not both be at the same stage of readiness for this life changing event whilst some of the best laid plans can seem so different in reality.
Adjusting to the demands of a newborn can be physically and emotionally exhausting especially in the first few weeks. You won't feel the same again and it will take time for everyone to adjust to the changes.
A new baby brings changes to the household that will affect everyone including siblings, step siblings and pets. Take time to ensure that everyone is prepared for this and ensure that no-one is left feeling left out.
Make sure that you make quality time for each other and give your sex life time to recover. Having a baby creates changes to your body, can make you tired and limit opportunity.
Hormone changes and sleep deprivation can lead to high emotions. Watch out for snapping, criticising and blaming each other.
Be patient with each other and supportive.
Share the responsibilities between you and remember to allocate some time each on your own. Having a set routine will help baby feel safe and secure too.
Friends and family will want to help and be involved. Give them practical tasks to do and let them know what you need. That way they can feel included and you won’t feel overwhelmed by advice and support.
A new baby can put incredible financial pressures on a relationship. Try to make a list of essentials items and see if you can borrow any of these from friends or family. Consider places like freecycle, charity shops and social media to source items as babies grow so quickly and will have limited use of them. Remember babies don’t need everything they show on TV, the best thing you can give them is your time and love.
The bond between you and your baby is the most important bond they will make and will provide foundations for future relationships and their wellbeing and is called attachment.
Five to Thrive is a simple approach which shows what happens every time you interact with your baby and are the things you do every day that helps your baby’s growing brain.
Respond – your baby feels safe when they know that you are thinking about them and their needs with your actions or words
Cuddle – touch and closeness is vital to develop a physical bond, babies particularly thrive with skin to skin contact.
Relax – Babies learn to relax from watching you
Play – Play help you to bond as it involves your full attention to each other.
Talk – talking and singing to babies from birth helps them understand language, learn about the world and how to form relationships with other people.