News, opinion and expertise Urban and Rural Health Happier homes handling challenging times In this guest blog, Danny Sinclair, PHA, discusses relationships, household conflict and helpful strategies with Elaine Hoey, Clinical Lead at Relate NI. It is natural that the current upset to normal life may be affecting our entire household, although this could be in a positive or negative way! The relationships between us are so important, as we navigate stormy seas, so we must look after each other. Tips for nurturing relationships, recommended by The Mental Health Foundation are: Give time – connect with your family and friends Be present – set time aside to not be distracted by work, or your phone, or other interests Listen – really listen, and try to focus on the other person’s needs in that moment Let yourself be listened to – be honest about how you feel, and let yourself be heard and supported by others Recognise unhealthy relationships – these can make us unhappy – recognising this is important, and lets us move forward and find solutions. Conflict, despite strong relationships, will still occur. Household strains can create and exacerbate conflict between siblings, in parenting, and particularly in areas such as schoolwork and behaviour. Some of the more common sources of conflict are highlighted below, along with suggested strategies to help manage them. Parenting disagreements It can be usual for one parent to take the lead on day to day parenting decisions, whereas this may have shifted during lockdown. It can be difficult to agree on issues such as screen time, sugar and snacks, and whether to maintain the ‘pre lockdown’ bed time routine. Strategies for managing parental disagreement include: Reflect on the bigger picture – looking back, what do you want your children to remember about this time? Try to relax on the specifics. Continued conflict negatively impacts a child. Compromises and flexible solutions can often be found instead. Nurture each other. Rather than criticising each other, take the opportunity to soothe and connect – we are all in this together after all. Schoolwork Managing your child’s education can be stressful, especially if they experience learning challenges. Strategies here include: Prioritise certain material or subjects. Decide early on when to hold your child accountable, and when to let things go. Use reward systems – rewards can increase intrinsic motivation when tasks give a sense of accomplishment. Don’t set the bar too high, or leave it too long to make the reward. Bear in mind that our children want our time and a reward can be doing something fun together. Behaviour challenges Many of us are exhausted by now. For parents with children who display challenging behaviours, such as intense tantrums, aggression, defiance or emotional outbursts, each day can feel like a marathon. Strategies here include: Manage your demands. It is normal to make requests of your child, but it is easy to run in to double figures in a day! If you are in double figures, do scale back. Ignore mildly negative behaviours, often labelled as ‘attitude’. You likely have little control over ‘attitude’. If your child is complying, even with some grumpiness, consider it a win. If ignoring annoying behaviour is too painful, use positive instruction. Instead of ‘stop doing that in here’, try ‘please go outside to play’. Punishment is easy to overuse and can often exacerbate the issue being tackled. Rewards for positive behaviour can be more effective than punishing ‘bad’ behaviour. Sibling conflict: While siblings can be a great comfort and company to one another, there can also be sibling disputes, with parents struggling to know how and when to get involved. Strategies include: Allow siblings to resolve their own conflict where possible. Multiple siblings ‘ganging up’ on a single sibling should not be allowed. Do not let children be physically aggressive. Be consistent, tackle this firmly and keep your own emotions out of the equation when doing so. These strategies aim to help ensure a healthy and harmonious home. Should you need more information on healthy relationships during COVID-19: www.relateni.org/images/RelateNI-HealthyRelationships.pdf www.relateni.org/covid19relationshipsupport Information on Family Support Services in Northern Ireland PHA/NCB article - Family Time During COVID-19 For support specifically for parents, freephone Parentline on 0808 8020 400.