Family conflict management during physical distancing

This article was developed by Raising Children Network in collaboration with Meredith Rayner, psychologist.

Fights among younger siblings and fights among teenage siblings are common at the best of times. During a stressful experience like physical distancing, it’s pretty natural for families to experience more conflict.

The good news is that sibling fights and family conflict can be a great chance for your children to practise social skills like problem-solving. It’s also a chance for you to be a problem-solving role model. When you approach family conflict like this, it can reduce everyone’s stress levels and make your family relationships stronger.

There are a few things that can help you prevent sibling fights and manage family conflict during physical distancing:

  • Set some family rules early on. For example, ‘We use calm words if we’re feeling cross’. Or ‘We try to breathe deeply before we react’.
  • Praise children when you see them getting along well or working together to sort out a problem. For example, ‘It’s great how you came up with a roster for the PlayStation’.
  • Wait before you step in to handle sibling fights. Sometimes this gives children the chance to sort things out for themselves. But if a disagreement gets physical or involves shouting or nasty remarks, you need to break it up.
  • Try to get children involved in calmly reflecting on the disagreement, sorting out what should happen next, and discussing how they might be able to avoid a similar conflict in future.

You might find that there’s more conflict between you and your older child than before physical distancing. In this situation, it can help to pick your battles. So even if you’d prefer for your child to make her bed while she’s at home, think about whether it’s really worth arguing about. You might want to save your energy for important things like making sure she’s getting enough healthy food, sleep and exercise.

You can get support by calling the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).