Resolving family conflict

Disagreements are a healthy part of family life. We’re all individuals with different ideas, personalities and ways of doing things, and we all want to control the TV remote!

And while we shouldn’t expect to agree all the time, ongoing conflict and tension can cause stress and damage our relationships. Resolving family conflict effectively also teaches kids how to negotiate and reach compromises, setting them up for strong relationships throughout life.

It starts with you

As an adult, you set the tone for your home, and the children and young people in your family will mirror your behaviour. If you shout or use physical aggression to deal with conflict, kids will think this is the way to get their point across or win a disagreement.

If you have an argument with another family member, try to model anger control by taking time to calm down before revisiting the issue. It’s important to show kids that although conflict is inevitable in life, it can be dealt with effectively.

Developing conflict management skills

  • Cooperation: Get kids to help solve conflict together. It’s important that you help them approach conflict in a positive way, and believe that they can work together to solve it.
  • Managing emotions: It can be really difficult for kids (and adults) to keep their cool in a conflict situation – especially if they feel they’re being accused or blamed. Reacting aggressively or withdrawing from the situation are common responses. It can help to take a bit of time out to let everyone calm down before returning to the problem.
  • Empathy: Teach kids how to listen to, and understand, the needs and concerns of other people. Help them to ask why the other person wants something and consider what it might be like to be ‘in their shoes’.
  • Communication: Learning to speak clearly and respectfully takes practice. You can help kids practise positive ways to ask for what they want: “I would like you to ask before using my things.”
  • When enough is enough: Some issues are too big for kids to work out and the conflict continues to escalate. If the conflicts become very intense or lead to physical aggression, then it is important for you to step in. When a mutual solution is not possible, you can still help your child to think through the alternatives that are available to him or her and choose the best one.
Six steps to conflict resolution

Try this step-by-step approach to working through an issue. You can also use these principles to sort out disagreements with your child or young person.

Step 1. Help kids see conflict as a problem they can sort out fairly with help. For example, you might say: “It looks like there’s a problem here. I’m sure if we talk about it we can sort it out.”

Step 2. Get each child to explain how they see the conflict. Get them to focus on what they want or need, and what their concerns or worries are, rather than blaming the other person.

Step 3. It’s helpful to restate each person’s concerns so everyone’s on the same page. For example, “So, you’re worried that you won’t get a turn; and you’re trying to make it to the next level of the game and you’re worried that if you stop now you won’t get to it.”

Step 4. Get each child or young person to suggest at least three different solutions. For example, “What are some ways to solve this so you can all feel OK about it?” If they can’t think of any, offer some ideas for them to think about.

Step 5. Help them agree on a solution that will work and put it into action.

Step 6. Praise them for sorting it out.

Tips for building healthy family relationships
  • Make your relationships a priority. Many of us lead very busy lives with lots of responsibilities. Try to set aside a few minutes each day to spend with your family, talking, reading a story or making dinner together. When kids see you making relationships a priority, they learn that they are important to you and feel loved.
  • Communicate effectively. Good communication is essential for healthy relationships and helps family members feel understood and supported. Take some time every day to talk and share information. Kids also learn how to communicate respectfully when they see the adults around them speak to each other with care and consideration.
  • Work together as a family. Working together as a family helps everyone feel that they have something important to offer. It’s also a good opportunity for kids to learn broader problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  • Provide support for each other. Let family members know that you are there to help, provide comfort, love and care. Being aware of a family member’s needs and offering to help, can reduce stress and conflict. 

Assertiveness vs aggression

Try to show the positives of being assertive, using compromise and negotiation to get what you want. When you see kids using aggression to win an argument, talk them through the differences between being assertive and being aggressive. 

When a person is aggressive, they...

  • stand up for their personal rights and express their thoughts, feelings and beliefs in a way that violates the rights of the other person
  • attack when threatened
  • use put downs to maintain superiority, e.g. “Don’t be so stupid”
  • use aggressive body language, e.g. crossed arms, clenched fists, staring, tensing their jaw.

When people have an encounter with somebody who is being aggressive, they often feel:

  • scared or threatened
  • resentful
  • angry
  • uncooperative.


Adapted from: Michel, F. (2008). Assert Yourself. Centre for Cl

When a person is assertive, they...

  • stand up for themselves while respecting other people’s beliefs and feelings at the same time
  • communicate how they feel in a firm but relaxed voice
  • provide constructive criticism without blame, for example “I feel irritated when you interrupt me”
  • use open body language, e.g. using open hand movements, maintaining eye contact without staring.

When people have an encounter with somebody who is being assertive, they often feel:

  • respected
  • that they understand the other person’s position.


Adapted from: Michel, F. (2008). Assert Yourself. Centre for Cl

If things are getting too much

Sometimes family conflict can be too hard to solve on your own and you might need some external support to mediate the situation. It’s best to get extra support before the conflict causes permanent damage to family relationships.

Who can help

Family violence

Family or domestic violence is very different from disagreements that are part of healthy relationships. This is when someone within a family uses violence or other forms of abuse – psychological, verbal or sexual – to control or intimidate other family members.

Family violence is never OK, and is no one’s fault but the person choosing to perpetrate violence.

Who can help

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