IMPORTANT: Ruling out domestic abuse before proceeding with work around parental relationships is vital to protect victims of domestic abuse and to avoid giving perpetrators additional tools and/or making the victim feel somewhat to blame. If you feel that domestic abuse may be present then please visit Domestic Abuse Getting Help for further information and advice.
Disagreements, frictions and squabbles are all aspects of life that a lot of us may try to avoid. However, we are all unique individuals with differing opinions, views, approaches and needs so ultimately disagreements within relationships are often unavoidable and a part of everyday life.
We know there are generic disagreements in every relationship, such as around who’s doing the daily chores, how money is being spent or how often you're spending time at work or with friends. But when children are involved, this can bring another dynamic (especially if parents are separated) such as how often each parent is seeing the child(ren), the behaviour management strategies that are being used or even what each child is being fed for their tea.
The disagreement itself is not the issue, but how we get our point across and manage the issue is what really matters, to both our lives and to our children’s.
Damaging conflict (not domestic abuse) between parents can be expressed in numerous ways:
- verbal arguments and aggression
- lack of respect
- lack of resolution
Such examples can affect children in all types of parental relationships including:
- parents who are in a relationship, whether married or not
- parents who have separated or divorced
- biological and stepparents
- other family members playing a parenting role
- foster and adoptive parents
- same-sex couples
The Healthy Relationships Programme focuses on the ways in which couples behave, rather than the status of the relationship
Cheshire East’s Healthy Relationships Programme
There are often missed opportunities to recognise, intervene and reduce issues between parents at early stages. This may be because of a lack of confidence, knowledge or recognition.
Through the use of online information, support services, self-help tools, resources and training courses, Cheshire East’s aim is to:
- empower professionals and parents to recognise the importance of positive parental relationships on children.
- enable professionals and parents to identify issues within parental relationships, knowing when and where to turn for additional support in the early stages.
- Provide self-help information, tools, and resources to help manage conflict appropriately and to prevent any damaging impact on children
Impact of unhealthy parental relationships on children
Parental acrimony (when frequent, intense, and poorly resolved) places children at risk of poor social, emotional, and educational outcomes.
Parental relationships that are characterised by hostility and distress are typically less sensitive and emotionally responsive to their children’s needs, creating tension and unpredictability within the family environment.
When children are exposed to positive parental relationships (whether together or separated) they are more likely to:
- feel safe and secure. When children are confident of the love of both parents, they are more easily able to adjust to new situations and succeed in all aspects of life.
- be aware of their behavioural expectations. When parents support one another with similar rules, sanctions, and rewards, children are more likely to acknowledge what is expected of them regarding their behaviour.
- build and maintain healthy relationships with others. When parents cooperate positively and amicably with one another, their child will mirror this throughout their future.
- problem solve effectively in diverse situations. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to solve problems effectively and peacefully themselves.
- be academically successful. When parents are equally involved in supporting children towards academic success, a child’s commitment to achieve will increase due to their improved self-esteem and security in knowing that their achievements will be recognised and celebrated by both parents alike.
- be mentally and physically healthier. When parents get along and jointly prioritise their children’s needs, children are less likely to develop issues such as anxiety and depression.
Throughout life we all encounter change and significant events that can alter our lived experiences, feelings and individual needs.
Life events and differences in opinion can trigger issues in relationships, this may include (but is not limited to):
If you or someone you know are struggling with any of the aspects above, please visit the support services associated.
Ensuring the best outcomes for children and families
By understanding the evidence and research around parental relationships and its impact on child outcomes, professionals who come into frequent contact with families and parents themselves can identify potential issues from the outset and therefore ensure appropriate steps are taken to minimise any harm to children.
Things to consider as a professional
Ensure there are no safeguarding concerns regarding the child(ren) or parents/carer. If there are safeguarding concerns you would need to contact CHECS on 0300 123 5012 (option 3, option 2) OR the police on 999.
- Don’t take sides and ensure the views of both parents/carers are gained.
- Gain the voice of the child(ren) relevant to the situation, remain in open communication with the family and monitor.
- Attempt to identify the cause of the issue(s) and offer support or signpost/refer to relevant services around this issue.
- Ensure that both parents/carers have a good understanding of the impact their relationship can have on their children and that they are both putting their child(ren) as their main priority.
- Consider putting a safety plan in place and identify and include a wider support network if necessary.
Things to consider as a parent
- Listen to, and acknowledge what the other person has to say
- Have realistic expectations and be flexible – remember you cannot control everything and have everything your own way.
- Be clear about what is it that you want to discuss, avoid making any unnecessary comments or gestures.
- Be open and honest about how you are feeling.
- Don’t make accusations towards the other person or report any accusations towards services if they are not true or necessary.
- Never underestimate the power of an apology (without a ‘but…’)
- Take care of yourself.
Get in touch to request further advice or any relevant resources to strengthen your relationship(s), or the relationships of those you work with to ultimately improve the overall outcomes for children.
Page last reviewed: 10 July 2023