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The effect of conflict upon your children

When parents separate, often it is not just the separation that has the biggest impact on their children, it is the continued conflict that impacts them the most.

What does conflict look like?

We all experience conflict at times – it is a normal part of life. Conflict after separation, while very stressful, is a normal experience many will go through.

Conflict can look like disagreements that you both are unable to have without reacting negatively, to verbal arguments and even physical fighting. Reactions to conflicts may look like angry reactions, hostile behaviour to one another and even giving each other the silent treatment.


Impacts of conflict on children

Conflict happens in relationships. The important thing is how you handle it. Not speaking to each other at all can be just as difficult for your children as arguing. The icy silence or the angry, tense atmosphere at the door can in fact impact a child as powerfully as spoken words.

Children are emotional sponges – they pick up every cue and every interaction their parents show them. This also means that every positive attempt at interaction is noticed too, and this is where parents can work together to ensure they keep their interactions positive, consistent and neutral.

The most helpful factor in these early days is the willingness to try and make things work, and to persevere in building a civil and practical parenting relationship.


Shuttle mediation – a safer way to conduct mediation

Where conflict becomes a barrier that prevents you from having the important discussions you need to move forward and reach an agreement, it may be appropriate to use shuttle mediation. Shuttle mediations are where you can both discuss your issues separately with a mediator who goes back and forth between the both of you either by phone, online, or face-to-face.

Shuttle Mediation may be appropriate for families with a history of high conflict. This may include family violence, where there is a concern for safety or due to a court order.

Find out more about how shuttle mediation works and how it can help you.


Conflict is not family violence

Conflict is different from violence. Threats and frequent aggressive behaviour fall under the definition of family violence. Your practitioner will always assess risk and if it is safe for both parties to participate in mediation. This assessment of safety will be ongoing as long as you both continue to use the service. Everybody has the right to feel safe and free from harm, and if this is not the case, then action needs to be taken that protects you and makes sure that you have support in place.


Supporting your children

Every child requires the same thing after their parent’s separation as they did before: they need love, encouragement, boundaries, routine, their friends and their social networks. These are all vital in their development and provides them opportunities for additional support.

Research has shown the negative impact of ongoing conflict on children and of the stress hormones released by their brains on their health and emotional wellbeing, particularly when they are young. Ongoing conflict can impact on a child’s ability to feel good about themselves, to have the confidence to work through difficult situations, to form long term relationships and to feel they fit in at school and can do well there.

If you find that you need additional support, services such as the Supporting Children After Separation service can help give your child a safe space to communicate their fears, concerns and needs to an experienced child counsellor and learn to find healthy ways of coping with the challenges they are facing.


What you can do to improve your communication

One of the greatest things you can give your child after separation is the assurance that you respect and understand their feelings for their other parent. If you can work out ways to communicate clearly with your former partner, without your children hearing angry voices or being asked to take awkward messages back and forth, that is a powerful signal that you are able to manage your adult world and they are then free to be the child or teenager they are.

Parenting programs such as the Parenting after Separation program can be a helpful way for you to both learn productive, positive and practical ways to communicate with each other and ways to bond with your child.

Support is just a phone call away

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