Managing parental conflict

Families today experience a range of stressors that can put pressure on parental relationships. Sometimes, the task of parenting itself can be a cause of tension and conflict between parents. Some disagreement is both inevitable and healthy in any relationship. The important issue is how this conflict is handled. Avoiding disagreement could mean avoiding important issues that would be better faced and sorted out.

The way in which parents handle everyday conflicts has a significant effect on their children. A child’s sense of safety and well-being is closely linked to how their parents behave towards each other.

Children learn from how they see their parents interact When parents are getting along well, their relationship serves as a secure base to support their child’s exploration and relationships with others. Children can cope and learn how to handle conflict if they see parents disagree from time to time and resolve their differences in a constructive way. However, children are significantly negatively affected by frequent, unresolved conflict between parents.

Children don’t have to hear or see conflict to be negatively affected by it. Children are very sensitive to the emotional climate of the house and pick up on tensions easily.

Some children cope better with conflict than others. This is related to the child’s temperament and the presence of other important relationships that can provide the child with support, for example, grandparents.

Conflict can be distressing and harmful for children. Severe conflict between parents may cause a range of behavioural, social and developmental problems in some children. Children can become distressed, anxious, clingy, aggressive or disobedient. They can experience sleep disturbances, problems in concentration and learning as well as difficulties in their peer relationships.

Managing conflict

Avoid fighting in front of children.

Don’t put children in a position where they feel like they have to take sides.

Avoid using your child as a way of “forcing” your partner to agree with you.

Model how to discuss differences and resolve conflict calmly.

Be clear with children that they are not to blame for the fighting.

Reassure children that you love them and that you are sorting the problem out.

Make time to listen to and accept your child’s feelings and worries about the fighting.

Respect differences in opinion between yourself and your partner – you will not always agree.

Be willing to collaborate as parents even if you don’t see eye to eye on things.

Seek professional assistance if the level of conflict is negatively affecting your children and your relationship.