Although we wrote this article early on in the coronavirus pandemic, it might still be helpful for your family as things continue to develop.
Emotions are running high, and arguments are exploding frequently. No one can agree with each other, and every little thing is annoying someone in the house. Mum and Dad are bickering, the children are shouting. Sound familiar? You’re absolutely not alone.
We all know we’re living in strange times. Our roles within the family, in the home and at work have changed. There’s been big changes to everyone’s daily routines, leading to a sense of loss for the things we can no longer do, or people we can no longer see. Where once you could walk away from household tension, you’re obliged to stay within the same walls. The way you thought of and used your home has changed: where once it may have been a place of solace and relaxation, it’s now also a school and a workplace. Heightened anxiety and stress mean that emotions and anger aren’t being processed in the same way. There may be money and food worries, as well as the guilt and anxiety of worrying about the effects this is having on children. There may be issues that were there before lockdown, coupled with the fact that there is now uncertainty about when lockdown will be over. The list goes on and on.
Whatever you’re feeling during this time, or whatever your family is going through, you’re not alone. There are millions of families and households around the UK who are struggling with these same worries, stressors and uncertainties.
Talking and listening
A frequent cause of arguments and tension in a household can be a lack of communication. An argument where both people see something differently can be really hard to try and resolve if neither are communicating properly or considering the other person’s point of view. While it’s important to acknowledge your own feelings as important, it can be useful to remember that everyone else in the house may be stressed as well, and their behaviour may be different because of this.
Being locked down together means a lot more people in the one space than usual, and there may be issues that spring from that. If you need to let someone else know that something is bothering you, try not to do it when you’re angry. Lashing out will only get the same response back. You could try thinking about what you want to say before you say it, then approach them calmly. Reflecting on why you’re annoyed may also reveal some deeper insights into why you’re feeling that way - and some of those reasons may have nothing to do with other people at all.
COVID-19 is a huge cause of stress in children, adolescents and adults alike. Finding some time to sit and talk together about those stresses may help your child understand they’re not the only ones scared, but that they don’t need to do the worrying. It may help you understand why your child is so stressed, anxious, angry or scared.
The anxiety and fear we’re living in right now is affecting our ability to stop, consider and stay calm when faced with bickering, an argument, rudeness, or even an off-handed comment. When stress levels are constantly at an 8, it only takes something small to push people over 10 and explode. For parents specifically, it can be important to remember that you’re not bad parents for needing time to yourself sometimes, or by occasionally feeling frustrated by your children. This is human and normal, and managing your own stress can help you to cope with that.
Stress management for the whole family is one of the biggest ways to calm the home environment. This might look different for each of you in the house, and may take some adaptation if the preferred stress released used to involve socialising, but it can be a worthwhile conversation for you all to have as a household. What do you each find relaxing? Do you need a certain space to do that? Is it ok for each of the household members to ask for some time alone in a family area? Do you want company or to be left alone when you’re feeling anxious?
If things do heat up and an argument starts, as hard as it may be the best thing you can do is leave the room. Nothing positive will come from an escalating shouting match where no one is listening to the other. Come back to the topic after you’ve had time to think about it and can see both points of view. If you are dealing with someone screaming, it can be helpful to lower your voice, to try and get them to lower theirs. Some deep breaths can help also. For more information, we have written about helping children to cope with their anxiety.
It may be useful to plan some activities together as a family, and involve friends and family as much as possible. Send a recipe around to everyone that you all cook together on a weekend over a video call. Have a games night that even the littlest member can join in on. Do some gardening together or some exercises. Make a list of all the films you want to watch, or the house activities you want to do, and cross them off as you go. Everyone practising acts of kindness for each other can also help stimulate calmness and appreciation for the different personalities in your household.
The ways that your family copes with conflict will be vital in how well and how happily you can live together in lockdown. We don’t know how long it will go on, so it makes sense for everyone in the house to bring their best efforts when it comes to empathy, compromise and kindness.
For more family activities, visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub, and for additional tips, guidance and information, we’ve compiled some resources below about how conflict arises during lockdown and strategies for coping with it, as well as contact numbers you can call for emotional, financial and safety advice.
A note about Domestic Abuse
“Abuse is not a form of conflict. Conflict is mutual; abuse is a repeated pattern of behavior in which one person controls another. Abuse is never your fault, and it is not your responsibility, nor is it possible, to practice mutual “conflict resolution” with an abuser.”1
Sadly, the number of domestic abuse cases being recorded during lockdown is higher than ever. 16 women were murdered in the first three weeks of lockdown alone, the highest it’s been in 11 years. If you are in lockdown with someone who is threatening your safety, now is not the time to hope it calms down. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline recommends having a safety plan, to ensure you have a plan of action if you need to escape during the lockdown.
The Government has a page dedicated to domestic abuse resources for men and women, but in an emergency, always call 999. If you cannot speak, pressing 55 will transfer the call from BT to the police. Please be advised this will not allow the police to trace your location.
BACP: Coronavirus lockdown: How to maintain happy family relationships in difficult circumstances
NSPCC: Arguments, conflict and family tension during coronavirus (COVID-19)
Family Lives: Coping practically and emotionally during the Covid-19 outbreak
Relationship Scotland: Managing Conflict and Arguments at Home during Covid 19 Lockdown measures
Talkspace1: Preventing Household Conflict When You’re Stuck at Home Together