Reducing Parental Conflict
What does 'parental conflict' mean?
Conflict between parents is a normal part of relationships and family life. Not all conflict is damaging, but the way conflict manifests – its frequency, intensity, and how it is resolved – can negatively affect children. Where conflict between parents is frequent, intense and poorly resolved, it can harm children’s outcomes – regardless of whether parents are together or separated. This includes family contexts not usually regarded as ‘high-risk’, not just where parents have separated or divorced or where there is domestic violence. Conflict can affect children in all types of parental relationships, which includes
• Parents who are in a relationship with each other, whether married or not
• Parents who have separated or divorced
• Biological and ‘step’ parents
• Foster and adoptive parents
• Gay and lesbian parents.
Conflict can range across a continuum of severity, from constructive to destructive conflict, to domestic violence and abuse in its most extreme form. Destructive conflict behaviours which put children’s mental health and long-term life chances at risk include aggression, non-verbal conflict or ‘the silent treatment’. By contrast, constructive conflict – where there continues to be respect and emotional control, and conflict is resolved or explained – is linked to lower risks of child distress. This suggests conflict resolution skills are an important focus for intervention to improve child outcomes. There are a range of difficulties that can influence parental conflict and its impact on children.
How to recognise destructive conflict in relationships
Ask yourself 3 key questions to see if you maybe have the features of destructive conflict in your relationship with your partner or co=parent – frequent, intense and poorly resolved arguments.
- Are you arguing – daily, weekly, monthly? (frequently)
- Do you argue about the same things, different things and are arguments resolved well or not well (poorly resolved)
- Are your arguments intense leaving feelings of high emotion – yes or no (intensive).
Good Things Foundation and One Plus One have been working in partnership to produce short videos to help people learn new ways of managing conflict. Making just a few changes could lead to healthier and happier outcomes for everyone in the family. Skills like ‘Staying calm’, ‘Speaking for yourself’ and ‘Re-thinking how you say things’can change how things play out in your household and let you, your family and your children see it differently .
Tools and downloads
- Online hub: Reducing parental conflict
Repository of reports and resources from EIF and other organisations on understanding and reducing parental conflict, produced to support DWP's national programme.