What is conflict?
Conflict can range from small disagreements between you and your partner to arguments to physical fights. Conflict can also look like uncomfortable silence, anger and hostility.
Sometimes you can sort out conflict with your partner quickly. At other times, it can be hard to work out solutions.
Conflict happens in relationships – it’s normal. The important thing is how you handle it.
Why conflict management is important for families
Constructive conflict management is good for you, your relationship and your children.
Good for you and your relationship
When you and your partner talk through your differences and come up with solutions you can both live with, you’re both likely to feel more positive, happy and supported. Your relationship is likely to be stronger too.
Good for your children
Conflict is a part of life. When your children see you working together on conflict management, it helps them learn valuable life skills like how to negotiate and solve problems effectively. It can also be reassuring for your children to see you being optimistic about working out your differences.
And children are badly affected in the short and long term by frequent, ongoing, angry or violent conflict. By working on conflict management, you protect your children from the downsides of conflict.
Conflict management tips
Keep it to yourselves
- Avoid arguing in front of your children.
- Save heated discussions for behind closed doors.
- Make a time to discuss problems when the children aren’t with you – for example, after children’s bedtime, or when they’re at school or visiting grandparents.
Let children see you sorting things out constructively
- Take turns talking and listening.
- Be polite and respectful.
- Try to understand your partner’s feelings or perspective. You don’t have to agree, but you can try to understand where your partner is coming from.
- Share your feelings with your partner.
- Assume your partner wants to work things out as much as you do.
- Take a problem-solving approach, and brainstorm lots of solutions.
Let your children know they’re not the problem
- Don’t feel you have to tell your children what the issue is. Some problems are for grown-up ears only.
- Tell your children that the argument or conflict between you and your partner isn’t about them and that the grown-ups are sorting it out.
- Let your children know that you’re trying to find a solution to the problem.
- Encourage your partner to spend happy, positive time with your children.
Focus on positive relationships with your children
- Make time for enjoyable activities with your children.
- Give your children positive attention, including lots of praise and encouragement when they behave in ways that you like.
- Give your children cuddles and tell them you love them – be affectionate.
- Talk with your children about things that interest them and what they’re doing and feeling.
- Whenever you can, stop what you’re doing so you can help, listen or talk to your children.
How children are affected by parental conflict
Conflict affects children badly when parents fight a lot and don’t resolve their differences. And the more parents argue, the more it affects children. Severe and frequent conflict can lead to a higher risk of emotional, behaviour and social problems.
For example, younger children might respond to conflict by throwing tantrums or behaving in difficult ways. School-age children are more likely to be disobedient and might have problems at school. Older children might experience problems like depression, worries and low self-esteem or confidence.
Conflict can be particularly harmful if it involves abuse, threats or arguments about a child in front of the child. Physical violence between couples can be even more harmful for children. Children who grow up seeing physical violence are more likely to have personal and social problems as adults.