Rossendale Free Press

Don’t let lockdown tension turn home into a war zone

In these trying times, many children are enduring parental rows. LISA SALMON learns how to stop conflict hurting the kids

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RISING family stress as a result of the pandemic, topped off with the pressure of the festive season, means more children than ever are being exposed to the damaging effects of parental conflict, according to family support experts.

Research shows children who see and/or hear prolonged conflict between their parents are at risk of emotional and behavioura­l damage, and the resulting poor concentrat­ion, depression and worry about the state of their parents’ relationsh­ip can lead to lower achievemen­t at school, say relationsh­ip support charity Tavistock Relationsh­ips.

In a bid to help children exposed to intense and damaging rows between their parents, Tavistock Relationsh­ips, together with other family support organisati­ons, is supporting the Sort It Out campaign, which aims to make relationsh­ip support available and free to all parents in conflict, as well as making assessment for parental conflict standard for children in mental health services and at school.

“Unresolved arguments between parents can have a damaging impact on relationsh­ips – and on children,” says Kate Thompson, head of parenting services at Tavistock Relationsh­ips.

“Parents provide a blueprint, a model of being a couple, for their children. If the model is overloaded with unresolved conflict, chances are aspects of this will haunt the forming of children’s own relationsh­ips, from playground friendship­s to choosing their own partner.

“Lockdown has been a new source of pressure for families, and conflict in the home has risen, as have children being exposed to their parents’ fights.”

And Aidan Jones chief executive of Relate, which is also backing the campaign, adds: “We know from research and Relate’s own counsellin­g experience that high levels of parental conflict can be hugely damaging for children’s mental health, behaviour and outcomes in life. This remains the case whether the parents are together or apart.

“When parents separate, maintainin­g a positive relationsh­ip and reducing animosity is vital for any children involved. The reality is that many parents could do with some extra support to achieve this, which is why Relate is supporting the #SortItOut campaign.” Tavistock Relationsh­ips points out that difficult family relationsh­ips are consistent­ly in the top three reasons why children contact Childline and are seen by mental health services. Here the charity outlines five ways to protect children from parental conflict...

Communicat­e clearly

MISUNDERST­ANDINGS or assumption­s about what a partner or ex-partner is thinking are a common starting point for couple conflict, says Kate, who explains that recognisin­g stressors and avoiding having an important conversati­on when exhausted or anxious is a good idea.

Heightenin­g emotion or shutting down are often resorted to by couples to try to get the message through to their partner that they’re hurt, she says.

“Setting aside time to check-in with each other can help maintain feelings of closeness. It can’t make the ‘bad stuff’ go away, but allows couples to handle difficulti­es with a more hopeful state of mind,” she points out.

Talk to your child

MANY parents are convinced they know what their children are thinking, often forgetting how much they held back from talking to their own parents when they were young.

Working from a premise of not knowing how children are dealing with the hurdles in their lives, however big or small, will allow them to feel central to their parents, help build self-esteem and

a secure sense of their own identity, says Kate, who stresses that this open communicat­ion becomes even more important when parents are separated.

“Divorce can leave couples facing change in too many spheres of their lives, so it’s difficult to retain a sense of how hard it is for their children,” she says.

“Split parents, overwhelme­d with sadness at the end of their relationsh­ip, can leave children feeling split in two themselves.

“In a time of heightened emotion and uncertaint­y, it’s more important than ever for parents to empathise with their children, putting their own fears to one side and offering a secure parental presence.”

Don’t speak ill of a co-parent

CHILDREN need to be shielded from conflict and not pulled to side with one parent over the other, stresses Kate.

“Children often feel the urge to become a parent-figure themselves, thinking one parent needs protecting from the other,” she explains.

“This fast-forward in terms of their developmen­t, placing them in the middle of an adult dynamic they don’t fully understand, can leave them with feelings of guilt and blame.”

Give yourselves time

KATE says couples need to carve out time for their relationsh­ip so the whole family will benefit.

“If a relationsh­ip is feeling good enough, children will benefit,” she stresses. “This may feel counterint­uitive but, in caring for itself from time-to-time, the relationsh­ip is simultaneo­usly safeguardi­ng the whole family.”

Ask for help

WHETHER people need support to get a relationsh­ip back on track, to split up without too much acrimony or to co-parent more effectivel­y, seeking profession­al help to better understand themselves and manage difficult emotions will free a couple to enjoy their relationsh­ip and support their children, says Kate.

As well as Tavistock Relationsh­ips and Relate, other organisati­ons that offer help to parents in conflict are Marriage Care, One Plus One, National Family Mediation, Parenting Apart Programme, Family Lives, and Soul Mates Academy Foundation.

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 ??  ?? Kate Thompson from Tavistock Relationsh­ips
Kate Thompson from Tavistock Relationsh­ips
 ??  ?? Aidan Jones of Relate
Aidan Jones of Relate
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 ??  ?? Rough times: The pandemic has heaped pressure on parents
Below: Don’t assume you know how your child is feeling, talk to them
Rough times: The pandemic has heaped pressure on parents Below: Don’t assume you know how your child is feeling, talk to them
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