When two people share responsibility for a child, no matter whether they are still together or separated, the relationship between them has a direct impact on the mental health of their children. All relationships have tricky moments it’s how they’re experienced and resolved that matters. Of course, disagreements and arguments are completely normal and part of everyday life but when this is frequent, intense and poorly resolved its time to make change. There is a lot of help available.

  Family Hub logo in square box

What is Parental Conflict?

Parental Conflict is disagreements that are frequent, intense and poorly resolved.  Parental conflict can happen between couples or following separation. Do you recognise any of these behaviours? If so, there is information, self help guides, and further support available to improve communication and resolve disagreements well.   

  • Are you arguing, having rows, shouting all the time with each other about things like, money, how you parent or housework?
  • Are you worried about splitting up?
  • Is there sulking, silent treatment, slamming doors or walking away from each other?
  • Are you anxious or worried and is this getting in the way of managing everyday life?
  • Are you not able to say sorry after an argument and move on?
  • Are you using hurtful texts, emails or social media against each other?

Parental conflict and domestic abuse are not the same thing. If you are experiencing domestic abuse you should seek specific and specialist support. It can sometimes be challenging to work out if your relationship is abusive.If your relationship with your partner, ex-partner or a member of your family is abusive:

  • they will want to hold all the power and control
  • you might be fearful of them or how they will view situations
  • their abuse will have happened more than once, or you will notice patterns 

Our relationship spectrum makes clear the differences between Parental Conflict and Domestic Abuse, please see the document at the bottom of this page. If you are afraid of your partner or feeling that they control your life this is Domestic Abuse and there is a lot of help available through the link or Home | Refuge National Domestic Abuse Helpline (nationaldahelpline.org.uk)

What is the Impact of Parental Conflict on children and Young People?

Researchers have evidence that Parental conflict negatively affects children and young people whilst they experience this and in the future; and that this happens even when parents have positive relationships with their children.

When children experience parental conflict it can cause: 

  • problems with school and learning
  • negative peer relationships
  • physical health problems
  • smoking and substance misuse
  • mental health and well being challenges

Later in life, children who experienced parental conflict are more likely to have:

  • poor future relationship chances
  • reduced academic attainment
  • lower employability
  • heightened interpersonal violence
  • depression and anxiety

The quality of parents relationships effects how parents care for their children, how they establish consistent routines, provide a stimulating environment, emotional security and role model health relationships. When parents conflict is frequent, intense and poor resolved they can become feel overwhelmed with their situation which may lead to them being less emotionally available for the children, over-compensating, be harsh, or blaming.  Being a parent isn't easy and everyone can feel overwhelmed for time to time, help is available to things back on track. 


What Causes Conflict? 

When parents are in a couple relationship:

Anything can cause conflict in a relationship, like who's turn it is to wash up or what to watch on TV.  Conflict happens when people have different perspectives on a situation. We are all different, we have different life experiences so see the world in different ways so have different opinions, this can lead to frustration, tension or anger.  Some times we feel frustrated about a situation, like whose turn is it to wash up, but what really is upsetting us is that we don't feel valued or listened to, or maybe work is really difficult right now -the washing up might be the tip of an ice berg with the real difficulty underneath the surface.   

  • Parenting
  • New baby
  • Big changes -new job, new house
  • Bereavement
  • Chores
  • Wider Family
  • Friends
  • Use of Social Media
  • Time away from the family
  • Housing
  • Spending Money
  • Debt
  • Work
  • Use of alcohol or substances
  • Health problems including mental health
  • Sex and couple time

When parents separate and now co-parent:

When couples separate there can be feelings of loss, sadness and hurt, even when it has been a mutual decision to separate.  When it wasn't a mutual decision to separate it can feel  even more painful. It can be hard to adjust to being co-parents rather than a couple; sometimes further adjustments are needed when new relationships are made. Conflict could be about contact arrangements or whether it's the right time to introduce children to a new people.

  • Contact arrangements
  • Holiday periods and special celebrations
  • What happens during contact
  • Money
  • Wider family
  • New relationships 

Whether you are in a couple or co-parenting it's okay to have different perspectives, what matters is how these are resolved.  

Positive or Negative Communication: 

All relationships experience conflict because at some point we will disagree with the other person, this is completely normal. Finding a positive way to resolve the disagreement is at the heart of a healthy relationships.  Children learn about relationships from their closest caregivers-usually their parents or close relatives; when we resolve conflict well we are solving a problem and teaching our children how to do this. Resolving conflict is an essential life skill that will help children with their own friendships, at school, college, work and in their own couple relationships.  

Constructive words and actions are helpful when we disagree because the focus is on finding a solution everyone can be happy with. Destructive words and actions are unhelpful because they focus on winning the argument at any cost.

Negative Actions and Communication 

Shouting, Swearing, Sarcasm, Making Personal comments, Refusing to Listen, Turning Away, Arms folded across chest, Eye rolling, Tapping foot or fingers, Banging cupboards and doors, Scowling or Grimacing, Throwing hands or arms into air, Not listening, Interrupting, Blame comments: 'you always do that' or 'you make me feel...'

Positive Actions and Communication

Staying calm -calm voice tone and volume Acknowledge the disagreement and that its good to resolve this together Focus on finding a solution that works for everyone Stay Respectful Wait until the other person has stopped speaking before you respond Listen to what they are saying, not just your what you want to say next Be aware of your body language and facial expressions -keep them calm Nod, smile, use eye contact, turn towards them, hand down and relaxed Check out you have understood properly what the other person just said.

 There are useful video's from 'See It Differently' that show the difference positive communication makes when resolving conflict.  Access the 'See it Differently' website and click into each of the videos to see how these parents changed the way they communicate with each other: www.seeitdifferently.org

Recognise when you need help:

Sometimes we need help to get our relationships back on track whether we parent as a couple or separately. There is a lot of help available, follow the steps below or jump right into the step that feels the best fit for you and your family.

 If you are struggling with your relationship remember that you are not alone, things can get better


Doncaster Relationship Pathway:

Steps parents can take to get help to reduce their conflict

Step 1: Local Help -helping yourself

Is it the Right Time and Place?

Sometimes we are keen to resolve the disagreement but it isn't the right time or place for ourselves, our partner or co-parent, or both of you. When we are tired, frustrated or low, or in the middle of a busy time it can difficult to stay constructive, it's often better to wait for a different time to resolve the disagreement.  Suggesting "can we talk about this later" or "can I call you at a quieter time?" might help keep things constructive. The disagreement needs to be resolved, not forgotten or ignored, otherwise it will get stored up for next time there is a disagreement leading to more frustration so it is important the discussion gets arranged for another time and not abandoned. 

There are lots of things you can do to help you calm down and be able to have a positive discussion:

Take a break

Some time alone can really help, but as parents we may not have the chance to do that. Sometimes making a cup of tea and closing the kitchen door or sitting in the garden is our best chance to take a break and just breathe. Being outdoors, close to nature, feeling the air around us can really help us to relax. It might be useful to create an 'i need a break' pack with activities to keep your children busy for a short time while you get some quiet time; if that's not possible ask a family member or friend to pop over instead, or arrange to take turns with your partner. 

Get Active

When we are angry our bodies fill up with 'fight ot flight' hormones, by getting active and increasing our heart rate we can get rid of those hormones and feel calmer. There are lots of ways to get active. Some people enjoy sports but others don't or struggle to fit this in when needed, instead walk the dog, take the children to the park or kick a ball around together, go for a run, play a work out video. Some people find cleaning or gardening a good way to burn off energy and feel calmer. 


Its important to find time to relax as part of your day today routine.  Try breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, drawing or doodling. Some people find gardening, having a bath, listening to music or even playing on computer games helps them relax. Time with pets or in nature can also help.

Talk About It

Talking things through with someone who isn't going to contribute to your anger or get involved can help you feel calmer, think things through and see things differently. It's good to get things 'off your chest' but remember this has to be with someone who isn't involved or likely to get involved. If family or friends aren't the right people to talk to there are online communities or other parents at your Family Hub or School pick up.

Take a look at the information, advice and guidance available from the Relationship Matters Website. There are top tips to help you stay calm and work it out, along with resources for you to use to explore your relationship and communication styles, and develop them: https://relationshipmatters.org.uk/

Relationship Matters logo

Try the 'Understanding Your Relationship' online course accessed from the In Our Place Website: https://inourplace.co.uk/ all courses are free using the code: STGEORGE. 'Understanding your relationships' covers our feelings, understanding how the other person is feeling, reading behaviours, responding, communication feelings, the rhythm of interaction, self regulation and anger, coping with anger, what we learned from our parents, rupture and repair.  The course takes less than three hours, it is in short units and can be saved and returned to, making it easy to fit around your schedule. 

In our place logo

Try our self help activities in the resources section at the bottom of this page to explore conflict in your relationships and learn communication techniques to reduce this.

Local Help -speak to someone

Help and support is available for reducing parental conflict

Speak with professionals you are already working with like Midwives, Health Visitors, Nursery Workers, School staff, or pop into your local:

All professionals understand how difficult it is to be a parent and the pressures that families face and there is no judgement.  Many of these workers have received training in Reducing Parental Conflict and Parenting Cooperatively for Separated Parents; they can work with you to help you to improve communication in your relationships and reduce conflict.  These workers can support you to work through useful resources, refer you into Reducing Parental Conflict Course, or recognise when coordinated support known as Early Help would be the best way forward and with consent put this in place for you and your family.

Remember you are not on your own, we all experience conflict from time to time, but if it is frequent, intense and poorly resolved it has an impact on your children. There is lots of help available from people you already know. Just ask. 

Step 3: Early Help 

  Early Help for your family logo

If the support provided in Step One or Two did not reduce conflict or you recognise your family already needs coordinated support then accessing Early Help will ensure you and your family have the right support. Early Help is a way of thinking and working together with families that have additional or more complex needs. With consent a Lead Practitioner will work alongside you and will be your main contact, they will support your family and will coordinate an Early Help Assessment, a Whole Family Plan and Team Around the Family meetings where needed.

Your Lead Practitioner can arrange for you to access the Reducing Parental Conflict course, the Family Transitions course, or the Parenting Cooperatively After Separation programme, alongside any other support you or your family need. 

  • The Reducing Parental Conflict course is delivered in small groups by friendly and experienced workers over six sessions, each around two hours. The course covers why parental relationships matter, what can cause conflict; signs of relationship distress for children and parents; positive and negative communication; coping strategies; arguing styles, thoughts, feelings and behaviours; and anger. 
  • The Family Transitions Triple P course is helpful for parents who need extra support to adjust and manage the transition from a two-parent family to a single-parent family. It focuses on skills to resolve conflicts with former partners and how to cope positively with stress.
  • The Parenting Cooperatively After Separation programme covers the impact on children of conflict between their separated parents, coping with feelings of loss and anger, communicating better, making arrangements about your child, and new relationships. 

Information about Early Help is available in our leaflet and on the following page Early Help in Doncaster

Parent Carer Leaflet Early Help
Download (4.14MB - PDF)

Parents and anyone else supporting a family with consent can make an Early Help referral

Remember you are not alone. We all experience conflict from time to time. What is important is taking steps to make sure conflict is managed well, making life better for you and your children. 

Step 4: Specialist Help

For some separated parents conflict is already embedded and things are too difficult to address without specialist help.  Mediation is an organised process in which you will be helped by the mediator to find solutions and reach agreement. Mediation offers a neutral place to meet with a trained independent mediator, who will give you the opportunity to discuss your options and to reach agreements which you understand and make sense.

Mediation is a cost effective way to make arrangements about your children and your finances following the decision to separate, it can also be helpful where grandparents or other family members cannot agree about arrangements.  Some families will be able to receive help towards the cost of mediation.   

There is useful information about what Mediation is, how to find an accredited Mediator and help with Mediation costs from the Family Mediation Council 


sketch of people round a table demonstrating mediation


For some families the right step is to apply to the court to make arrangements about the care of your child, when this happens CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) become involved.  CAFCASS has lots of useful information and resources for families to access on their website, including the court process. 

Caffcass text and sketch of girl

  The government has information about how to apply for a court order

Remember, conflict is a normal part of relationships.  Sometimes we manage our conflict fairly well, other times we struggle and conflict gets frequent, intense and poorly resolved.  The most important thing is to recognise when things are difficult and to get the help needed to improve things for every ones sake. Conflict is difficult for everyone but our children are most affected. Don't let your conflict affect them.    






Last updated: 07 December 2023 15:05:17