When families disagree during lockdown and what to do when it’s happening to you

This article was last updated on 3 June 2020.

Most families argue sometimes – and it’s quite normal to argue with parents or siblings more than you would argue with, say, friends or teachers.

This is because, if we are lucky, we know that our family are the people who are safe to offload onto. They are people who will still love us, even if we get angry with them. Parents and carers are also the ones we have to negotiate all the difficult stuff with, like what we are allowed and not allowed to do. With siblings, it’s easy to clash over what is fair.

Most families are finding themselves arguing more since lockdown started. This is not surprising, as we are living on top of each other and having to manage all sorts of new stresses, losses and uncertainty. But in some families the arguing can get too much. Maybe the arguments feel like they are happening all the time, or never getting sorted out, or getting out of control.

1. Take a moment

Did you know that it’s not physically possible to use the part of your brain that is good at sorting out problems when you are really stressed, upset or angry? Instead, if you and the other person can take some time apart to calm down and then come back to the discussion, you are much more likely to get a good outcome. It sounds simple but it really works.

2. Hear each other out

Sometimes when we argue we can get really caught up in wanting to prove our point and win the argument. However, if the other person feels that you are not listening to them, they will get more angry and be less likely to listen to you (see 1. above!). So, if you listen to them, they will be more likely to listen to you. That way, you might both get a better understanding of what is going on.

3. See the bigger picture

Most people have extra stress to manage at the moment. Maybe you are missing your friends, maybe a parent is worried about their job or a family member who is unwell, maybe a sibling is struggling with school work. Sometimes these stresses make us more sensitive or quick to react than usual. Remembering this is likely to help us to be more forgiving to each other, and to ourselves.

4. Agree to disagree

Before lockdown, you might have had an argument over something trivial at breakfast, gone to school and have completely forgotten about it by the time you got home. In lockdown, it can be hard to get your own space and there are fewer distractions. Issues can intensify and we can get stuck in a power battle. When this happens, it might be helpful to just accept that you hold different views – and agree to disagree.

5. Make a call

Use friends or extended family to help you find a way through these arguments. Talk to people who you trust, who care about you and know you well. These should be people who will listen before offering advice, and who are not afraid to challenge you if need be! It can help to get different perspectives, and just talking it through will probably help you to feel a bit better.

6. Pick your battles

If you need a rest from constant arguments and bickering, maybe try being selective about which battles you choose to fight. For example, you might decide that you are willing to ignore the fact that it is not your turn to empty the dishwasher, and do it anyway. But you might decide that it really does matter to you that you are allowed to spend an extra half hour on social media at the weekend.

7. Separate yourself

In the same way, you should ask yourself which battles are yours to fight. Arguments between parents or carers are not your responsibility. If your parents are arguing a lot, do what you can to separate yourself from those arguments. Use the advice and support of friends or other family members who you trust (see 5. above). If you are worried about either or both of your parents, yourself or another family member, do ask for help (see 8. below).

8. Ask for help

Sometimes arguments can get very upsetting, or even frightening. Sometimes they can turn physical and people can get hurt. If this is happening within your family, it is important that you seek help. Try talking to a trusted adult, or call Childline for advice on 0800 1111 (calls are free and won’t show up on phone bills, do also look on their website for other ways to get in touch). Whatever approach you take, don’t give up if this doesn’t work first time – and remember, in emergency situations, you can dial 999.

Family arguments are not nice for anyone, but try and remember that things will eventually change. The stresses that might be leading to more arguments at the moment will be reduced. Like anything, it takes practice to get good at managing arguments, and you learn from your mistakes. So, if you and your family get better at managing arguments while we are under lockdown, it may well make you stronger as you move forward.

Dr Emma Morris is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at the Anna Freud Centre.

For more advice on looking after your mental health during this time, you can visit YoungMinds, Mind or The Anna Freud Centre.

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