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Managing Family Conflict during the Holidays

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Managing Family Conflict during the Holidays


Managing Family Conflict during the Holidays

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Family conflict is a normal process and how people under one roof may work together to resolve differences. Family conflict and teenagers, or conflict around teenagers, is an important topic, as conflict often escalates in teenage years and can arise for a number of reasons. The holiday season may be a time of festivities and connection, but also when tensions run high as family members manage increased stress and more frequent interactions outside of the school schedule.

Teens will probably be aware of hostility between caregivers, whether in their presence or not. They may feel unsafe or distressed but not show this directly. They do better when caregivers can listen respectfully to differences and find healthy ways to resolve conflict. However, in the case of ongoing confrontation that goes without resolution, there is a need to protect teens while as a parent or carer you look after yourself.

Teens may show that they’re being impacted by conflict in the home in a number of ways, including:

- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Having trouble concentrating at school
- Behaving aggressively or acting out
- Having trouble eating or sleeping
- Seeming sad or unable to regulate their emotions
- Feeling guilty or responsible. 

Through conflict, a teen needs an adult who can provide warmth, structure, emotional support and consistency. This may be in the form of continuing and creating routines, providing validation and affirming their efforts at school and elsewhere, enabling their social growth and being present for them to come to for support.

It is also important to provide them with many avenues of support. This may be a relative, family friend, teacher or school counsellor. It is also important for sibling relationships to be sustained, as well as routines around school and extracurriculars.

Family conflict can affect your ability to connect with your child as you might be more annoyed or irritable, lack the energy to support them or to provide structure at home. Even if you cannot resolve the conflict, there are things you can do to shield your child. 

- Don’t lean on your child for support, even if they appear to be able to handle it. Lean on other adults, including professional support if needed.
- Don’t allow/make your child take sides in order to gain your approval.
- Acknowledge to your child that there are disagreements or conflicts without having to go into more detail than the child needs to respond.
- Don’t make them feel responsible for the conflict or resolution.

Teens may also want to create a wellness plan for navigating ongoing conflict in the family. This may include seeing friends or relatives to talk about it, or engaging in self-soothing strategies which can take their mind off the conflict until it is resolved. 


Separated Parenting and the Holidays

The holiday season is often a stressful time for families despite the festivities. This is particularly so for parents who are separated and are managing shared contact with their children. There are ways you can help to provide support, structure and balance so that everyone can enjoy their break.

Here are some tips for celebrating the holidays when families are separated:

1. Have a pre-existing plan for what happens around important days, like Christmas or New Years. Agree on which parent will see the children on what days and at what time, and be reasonable and respectful as much as you can be for their other parent’s choices. It may help to have an alternating schedule every year, to split the day between parents, or to ask your teen what arrangement they would prefer.

Here is a comment from a teen whose parents are separated and how they are celebrating their holidays:

One thing that’s always worked for me and my family is having a prearranged schedule for Christmas time. Christmas Eve and Boxing Day are with my mum, and Christmas Day is with my dad. This has helped prevent any schedule clashes or conflicts around Christmas. It makes the holidays a lot less stressful for everyone and provides some stability and reliability.

2. Don’t make it into a competition between your child’s co-parent. Expensive gifts or getaways might make your teen feel conflicted or stuck in the middle of having to appreciate one parent’s contribution over the other’s, which will ultimately make their holidays less enjoyable.

3. Communicate with their other parent. Take the pressure off your teen to be responsible for arranging their own holidays or speaking between you. They may also have existing events or plans, which both parents need to know about.

If you need advice or guidance around parenting arrangements and the holidays, consider talking to the Family Relationships Advice Line


Family Violence

When conflict becomes unhealthy, or turns into aggression or violence, the way a parent  or carer will navigate the situation will likely change. Where possible, it is important to shield your teen from family violence while looking after yourself. Teens may have a safety plan for conflict or violence outside the home, including who to contact and where to go when things become dangerous or at-risk.

Sometimes it is the teen themselves who is a perpetrator of conflict or violence. If your teen is behaving violently, here are some things you can do:

- Stay calm.
- Limit what you say to them in the moment.
- Call for help from a friend or family member.
- Go to a safe place in your home.
- Go to a safe place outside your home and wait for help.

For more information and assistance in making safety plans, 1800RESPECT provides free phone or chat-based counselling support for those impacted by family violence or abuse.

Other Resources:

Family Relationships can provide a range of support and information during the holiday period including navigating conflict, family and custody arrangements.

Relationships Australia provides a range of services and has a hotline for each state.

There are a number of Parent Helplines which can also provide support and advice on parenting.