Conflict with parents and guardians
Common reasons for arguing with your parents, guardians or carers are:
- your opinions and values are different from theirs
- poor communication: you misunderstand each other and jump to conclusions
- you want more independence than they're willing to give you
- you feel like you’re being treated like a kid
- they don’t respect your privacy
- massive changes are happening in the family: separation, divorce, new baby, moving
- there’s pressure or expectations regarding your friends, job, exams, chores, even your personal style.
Conflict with brothers and sisters
Yep, your annoying bro or sis knows exactly which buttons to push to make you see red. Things that can make these conflicts harder to deal with are:
- differences in age
- jealousy, or feeling like you're not good enough
- lack of space
- step-brothers, step-sisters or step-families
- competitiveness over study, sport or other achievements.
How to deal with conflict
There are different ways of dealing with family conflict. Below are some things you can do. Even if they just give you some time to think about what to do next, that’s a start.
Don't sweat the small stuff
If it's something small, like teasing, try not to get wound up. Avoid that family member if you can.
Count to 10
It might sound stupid but walking away and counting to ten can be a good way to avoid saying something you’ll regret later. It also gives you time to come back with a better response.
Get some space
While not solving the problem, it can be good to get some head space either with friends or by yourself. Try exercising or chilling out.
Talk it over with someone else
Getting a different perspective can help you understand why you have a conflict. It might also help you identify some useful strategies for resolving or handling it.
Tips for talking it out
If you’re fighting with your parents, you might try having a calm conversation with them about what’s going on. They’ll probably be impressed to see you take such a mature approach to the problem, especially if you initiate it. Even with annoying siblings, clear and calm communication will almost always be the best way to sort things out and come to an arrangement that works for all of you.
- Pick a time when no one is angry, upset, stressed or tired.
- Choose a place where you can sit and talk without being interrupted.
- Be willing to compromise, and come up with options you're willing to accept.
- Avoid being sarcastic or verbally attacking the other person.
- Be honest. If something really upsets you, let the other person know.
- Listen to what the other person has to say, and accept that their point of view might be just as valid as yours. (This is easier said than done, but it’s well worth it!)
- Once you’ve settled on something you can agree to, stick to it – maybe for a set period of time.
- If talking feels impossible, try writing an email or a letter, explaining how you feel.
If you can’t reach a compromise, you might have to 'agree to disagree'. Remember that you can have your own opinions, based on your personal experience, beliefs and values, and you don’t always have to agree with your family.
If you don’t feel safe
If you feel like you’re in danger, go to our urgent help page. You don’t have to solve this problem on your own. There are a number of services that can talk you through the best approach to your situation and help you work out a solution.
This fact sheet provides information for parents about the ways family conflict affects children, both in families who live together and in families who have separated.
In families where there is a high level of conflict and animosity between parents, children are at a greater risk of developing emotional, social and behavioural problems, as well as difficulties with concentration and educational achievement.
Frequent and intense conflict or fighting between parents also has a negative impact on children’s sense of safety and security which affects their relationships with their parents and with others. Parental conflict that focuses on children is also linked to adjustment problems, particularly when children blame themselves for their parents’ problems.
‘Good quality parenting’, that is parenting that provides structure, warmth, emotional support and positive reinforcement, has been found to reduce the impact of conflict.
Conflict in families after separation
Parental separation often initially leads to an increase in parental conflict and anger, although for some families the level of conflict reduces when parents do not see each other regularly.
The level of conflict between parents usually reduces significantly in the two to three years after separation, although it remains high in approximately ten per cent of families.
Research has found that following separation and divorce, children are twice as likely to have emotional, social, behavioural and academic problems compared to children from families that are still together. However, this may not be the case in all families.
The increased risk of poor adjustment in children may partly be due to high conflict and other problems in the family before the separation. This may affect the child/ren’s ability to cope with the separation.
High levels of conflict and ill feeling between parents following separation has also been found to have a negative impact on children’s adjustment following their parents’ separation.
The type of post-separation conflict that has been found to have the worst effect on children is that which occurs when parents use children to express their anger and hostility. Children who are placed in the middle of their parents’ dispute (by either parent) are more likely to be angry, stressed, depressed or anxious, and have poorer relationships with their parents than children who are not used in this way.
Problematic parent behaviours
The types of parent behaviours that have been identified as being highly problematic are:
- asking children to carry hostile messages to the other parent
- asking children intrusive questions about the other parent
- creating a need in the child/ren to hide information
- creating a need for the child/ren to hide positive feelings for the other parent, and
- demeaning or putting down the other parent in the presence of the child/ren.
Children should feel able to talk openly about their lives in both households, but not feel obliged to do so. They should also feel safe when expressing their feelings regardless of which parent they are with.
Children who blame themselves for their parents' fighting have also been found to be at greater risk of poor social and emotional adjustment following their parents’ separation.
The risks to child development associated with exposure to family violence do not necessarily stop following their parents' separation due to the ongoing risk of family violence and its impact on parenting practices. (See the fact sheet Exposure to family violence and its effect on children.)
Other factors identified as having a negative impact on how children adjust following their parents’ separation include:
- the psychological adjustment of the parent/s after separation
- the quality and type of parenting received by the child/ren
- the relationship between parent/s and the child/ren
- the loss of important relationships
- changes in family structures, such as parents re-partnering, and
- a reduction in financial resources.
Resolving parental conflict has been shown to positively help children and protect them from the negative effects of parental separation.
Other protective factors for children after separation include:
- having a positive, warm and caring relationship with at least one and preferably two actively involved parents, and
- having positive relationships between siblings.
Providing children with an environment in which they feel physically and psychologically safe is critically important for their wellbeing and must be given high priority.
Assistance or further information
Family Relationship Advice Line
The Family Relationship Advice Line has a range of fact sheets and other information on family law services, including: children's contact services; counselling; family dispute resolution; parenting orders program; post-separation cooperative parenting; and supporting children after separation.
Phone: 1800 050 321
National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line
Phone: 1800 737 732
Police or ambulance
Call 000 at any time if you are worried about you or your children’s safety.
Phone: 131 114
Translating and interpreting
Phone to gain access to an interpreter in your own language.
Phone: 131 450
Kids Help Line
Telephone counselling for children and young people.
Phone: 1800 551 800
Australian Childhood Foundation
Counselling for children and young people affected by abuse.
Phone: 1800 176 453
Support groups and counselling on relationships, and for abusive and abused partners.
Phone: 1300 364 277
Our Place Online
An online forum for men and women who have suffered abuse in all its forms: psychological, verbal, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse. The forum is run by a community of volunteers all over the world. Our Place aims to help educate and support those wishing to heal from the damage done.
1The information in this fact sheet is adapted from a review of the research conducted by Kelly, J. (2012) Risk and protective factors associated with child and adolescent adjustment following separation and divorce: Social science applications, Chapter 3. In Eds. K. Kuehnle & L. Drozd. Parenting Plan Evaluations: Applied research for the family court, Oxford University Press, New York.