Support and Advice for Families

Reducing Parental Conflict - Information for Parents

Child having a tantrum and woman holding her head

Conflict between parents is a normal part of relationships. However, there is growing evidence that shows that parental conflict puts children’s mental health and long-term outcomes at risk when it is frequent, intense and poorly resolved.

Affects on family

Parental conflict can harm children’s outcomes regardless of whether parents are together or separated, or are biologically related to the child, such as in blended or foster families. This conflict is associated with a range of problems for children and young people as they grow up including mental health difficulties, poorer academic outcomes, reduced employment prospects and poor future relationship chances.

Whether you are together or apart conflict in a relationship is completely normal. What matters is how you deal with conflict. When conflict is handled in a destructive rather than constructive way it can have negative consequences for parents and their children. Conflict can range from a lack of warmth and emotional distance through to swearing and shouting. The relationship might be classed as “difficult” but it is not abusive.

See it differently provide short videos for you to watch, they may help you to see and do things differently when arguing. These videos can help you to understand new ways of managing conflict and how to change how things play out in the household. Potentially leading to healthier and happier outcomes for everyone, including children.

Comparison of constructive conflict and destructive conflict.

Constructive conflict

Destructive conflict

Staying calm

Physical/verbal aggression

Listening and talking openly

Not overcoming disagreements

Finding a solution

Bearing grudges

Being positive

Sulking or silent treatment

 

We all have a natural reaction to conflict and how we deal with it but we can learn to deal with it more effectively. How you deal with conflict will impact how your child deals with conflict. When family life is good, children thrive.

By improving your relationship your child:

  • May be happier;

  • have better mental health;

  • have better relationships with others;

  • be healthier;

  • do better at school.

Families are most at risk of parental conflict during key transitions in life such as:

  • Separation;

  • bereavement;

  • new baby;

  • children starting school.

Families living in poverty or under economic pressure are more at risk of parental conflict.

 

Ways to reduce parental conflict

There are many things we can do to reduce the amount of conflict in our relationships. These may be achieved fairly easily with just a few adjustments!

Here are some top tips to try:

  • Try and spend more quality time together. Have a regular date night with your partner.

  • Choose the right time to address things. Waiting for a quiet time in the evening may be more preferable to during a busy school run.

  • Tell your partner how a situation makes you feel and try to show you understand their point of view.

  • Consider and ask each other’s views; be willing and open to compromise.

  • Listen to each other’s views without interrupting each other; one voice at a time.

  • Make sure everyone has an opportunity to voice their view, provide time for the other person to respond to what has been said, wait and listen.

  • Communication really is key. Celebrate things you agree on and use this in future discussions.

An important part of being a parent is to find out together what works best for you as a family. Sitting down and talking about what is going well and what may need more attention or a change of thinking are good ways of ensuring communication is open and transparent. This creates an environment that ensures everyone’s views are heard and a sense of equality within the relationship.

Family centres

Due to Coronovirus (COVID-19) we know that life has become more challenging for a lot of families. There is further support and help available through your local Family Centre:

East Newport Family Centre (Hub) Telephone: 01983 529208

Pan Community Hub, Furrlongs, Newport, PO30 2AX

Email: IOWfamilyCentres@barnardos.org.uk

Facebook: Isle of Wight Family Centres

Domestic Abuse

Remember no-one should ever make you feel threatened or unsafe; if this is the case there are many organisations and services that are there to support you please visit our  Domestic Abuse - Service web pages (iow.gov.uk)

If you or someone else is in immediate danger or at serious risk of harm, you are advised to call the police on 999.

Co-parenting

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 themselves and the children and how to deal with “what is not there anymore” as well 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. This is often followed by a second transition later, when finances are more stable. This can be challenging in the first 6 to 12 months. Especially 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. They also have to create 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.

Top Tips:

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 think of your former partner as your co-parent rather than your ex. Thinking of them as your ex 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 goals of 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 the children 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 grief 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 a loved one 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

  1. Denial and isolation – denial is a common defence mechanism that buffers the immediate shock of the loss, numbing us to our emotions.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Depression – Initially this can be fuelled with sadness and regret and prepares us to separate from the loss.
  5. Acceptance – To make peace and adjust to life without them.

People will go through these stages at their own pace and levels of intensity and often move around depending on what else is going on in life. They may revisit these stages in future bereavements and some people will never reach stage 5.

What you can 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. 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.  

Common situations where difficult behaviour can appear are:

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.

Communication - An inability to verbalise their emotions or a fear of the unknown may cause children to make poor choices.

All of these situations may cause a child to become loud, aggressive, defiant or noncompliant.

Top tips:

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.

New Baby

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. 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.

Top tips:

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 feeling left out.

Make sure that you make quality time for each other. Give your sex life time to recover. Having a baby creates changes to the woman's body and can make them 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.

Remember to allocate some time for each of you to be 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. These bonds will make and provide the foundations for your child's future relationships and their wellbeing. It is called attachment.

 

Five to thrive is a simple approach which shows what happens every time you interact with your baby. These are the things you do every day that helps your baby’s growing brain.

  1. Respond – your baby feels safe when they know that you are thinking about them and their needs with your actions or words.
  2. Cuddle – touch and closeness is vital to develop a physical bond, babies particularly thrive with skin to skin contact.
  3. Relax – Babies learn to relax from watching you.
  4. Play – Play help you to bond as it involves your full attention to each other.
  5. Talk – talking and singing to babies from birth helps them understand language, learn about the world and how to form relationships with other people.