How to deal with conflict between family members

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Family life can get complicated sometimes. Here’s how you can handle struggles in your family relationships.

Conflicts can happen between adults, between children and adults, or between siblings. Sometimes, families face difficulties that can cause conflicts or make them worse.

Every family faces challenges and some problems are more serious than others. Challenges could include:

  • financial problems
  • arguments between adults
  • fights between siblings
  • big changes in the family (a move, a job loss, a physical or mental illness, etc.)
  • addition or loss of family members (births, deaths, separations, divorces, remarriages, etc.)
  • addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.)
  • generational and cultural differences
  • violent or abusive behaviour, including violent or abusive behaviour

Dealing with family problems can be very difficult and stressful. If your family is going through a hard time or if you’re concerned about it, talk to a safe adult or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

Conflicts over house rules

Every family has its own set of house rules for kids and teens, and sometimes these are a source of conflict.

House rules can cover a wide range of things, including:

  • what household chores you’re expected to do
  • how often you clean your room
  • how much time you’re expected to spend with your family
  • curfews
  • homework, school and extracurricular activities
  • telling parents, guardians or caregivers where you’re going and who you’re going to see
  • dating and friendships

Parents, guardians and caregivers set house rules to help you:

  • feel safe and secure
  • learn how to get along with others
  • develop respect for other people
  • learn what is and isn’t acceptable when sharing a space with others
  • learn self-discipline
  • learn skills that you’ll need to live independently, such as cooking and cleaning
  • feel a sense of consistency and defined limits for the household
  • live in an environment where both adults and children aren’t hurtful or disrespectful to each other

Sometimes, you may think that your family’s house rules are too strict or that people expect too much from you. You may feel like:

  • you’re asked too many questions about where you go, what you do and who you’re spending time with
  • you’re being checked up on or spied on
  • you need to start lying about what you’re doing because the truth would upset your parent/guardian/caregiver or get you in trouble

Breaking the rules, getting upset or fighting with your parent, guardian or caregiver will not make things better. In fact, it may make things worse — you could end up with more rules or bigger consequences.

Here’s what to do if you disagree with your family’s house rules:

  • Talk it out: Explain to your parent/guardian/caregiver that you understand the need for house rules. Ask if they’re willing to compromise to help you earn their trust and show that you’re responsible.
  • Open up: Share your feelings about the rules with your parent/guardian/caregiver. Acknowledge that you’re going to make mistakes sometimes, but that you’ll also try to learn from them.
  • Compromise: Ask if you can help determine what the house rules are as well as the consequences for not following them.
  • Reach out: If you think your house rules could be emotional abuse, or if you’re really struggling to follow them, try talking to a safe adult about it.

If you break a house rule, try to wait until everyone is calm before talking about what happened and why. Explain what happened and accept the consequences for breaking the rule. If it’s a rule you don’t agree with, try to negotiate changes that are acceptable to everyone.

If you still have trouble with the house rules and you don’t feel you can talk to your parent, guardian or caregiver, or if you think the rules are overly strict or controlling (maybe even emotional abuse), talk to a safe adult. You can call Kids Help Phone 24/7 at 1-800-668-6868.

Conflicts with siblings

In most families, siblings fight with each other from time to time. They may:

  • call each other names
  • tease each other
  • hit each other

While some verbal arguing is no big deal, hurting each other’s feelings or getting into physical fights is more serious. You may need help to make things better. You and your sibling both deserve to be treated with respect.

If you fight with your sibling a lot, think about why the conflicts start in the first place. Maybe you feel like:

  • your sibling gets more attention than you do
  • your parents/guardians/caregivers compare you to your sibling
  • your sibling doesn’t respect your privacy
  • your sibling won’t share the TV/computer/phone
  • your sibling teases or provokes you

You may find that you fight more often with your sibling when other upsetting or difficult things happen in your life, like:

  • problems with friends, school or your parents/guardians/caregivers
  • a big change (a move, birth, death, loss of a pet, divorce, remarriage, etc.)

Or maybe, you just don’t get along with your sibling. You may be too much alike (or too different) to understand and support one another. It’s OK to be angry at, jealous of or tired of your sibling. It’s not OK to be violent or hurt your sibling’s feelings.

Improving sibling relationships

Conflicts with siblings can be stressful and frustrating. Try these ideas to mend your relationship:

  • If your sibling is teasing or bugging you, try your best to ignore their behaviour. Walk away if you can.
  • When you feel especially frustrated, find things to do away from your home (take a walk, go to a friend’s house, visit the library, etc.).
  • If you feel comfortable and safe doing so, talk about the problem with your sibling.
  • Talk with your parent/guardian/caregiver about the fighting and ask for their support. Describe how it makes you feel and tell them why you think it’s happening. You can come up with ideas for a more peaceful home together.
  • Try sharing your feelings with a close friend. Sometimes, friends have pretty good ideas, especially if they have siblings, too.
  • Realize that this may just be a difficult stage that you and your sibling are going through. Things often get better with time.

Fighting with siblings is common, but if a situation becomes dangerous or too upsetting, it’s important to get help.