Factsheet: Family Relationships

Written by CHILDREN 1ST

This factsheet is available in a downloadable PDF here. 

Table of Contents

Managing Conflict and Change
Separation and Divorce
Relationships between Parents and Teenagers
Why is Communication Important and How is it Possible? 


Family lives can be complex and there can be numerous different relationships and dynamics within the family at any one time. Many worries and questions regarding family relationships are triggered by a specific incident, but these are often combined with additional concerns such as alcohol, drugs, financial worries and relationship problems.

All families have their ups and downs and each of us reacts in different ways to these. Key life changes such as moving house, separation, divorce, birth, death and marriage can be difficult, not only because they involve change, but can often involve coping with feelings of loss as well. It is important that everyone in the family is allowed to express their feelings as they may vary from person to person.

In times of change, remember the people that are constant in your family’s lives – grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends can make a difference. Children and young people often find it hard to express their feelings, and can at times display quite challenging behaviour. It is important to take time to try to find out what the underlying cause of their unhappiness is.

Managing Conflict and Change                                                        

Communication is key to sorting out any differences within the family. If your children will not talk to you there may be another adult they trust. Try to talk to your partner and present a united front if possible. Often we can listen but we don’t hear. Let the person know you have understood what they have said and check out how they are feeling. Try to let everyone have his or her say and be prepared to compromise if possible. You may not all agree but try to find a way to resolve any disagreements without shouting or resorting to violence. Children learn from how conflict is resolved in a family.

Separation and Divorce

The impact of divorce on families is a major concern for many parents, with one in four families experiencing divorce in the UK. Thousands of other children will experience the separation of their parents, many of whom will meet new partners.

Although some children are able to adjust to change and the formation of a new family, many find separation and divorce extremely difficult. For those involved, it is vitally important, where possible, that communication between parents remains civil for the sake of the child. It can be helpful to talk to someone who can act as a mediator in difficult circumstances. However there are situations where communication may not be possible or advisable; for example, if there has been violence towards the parent or child, leading to fears for the safety of either.

Within all families, whether you are trying to bring up your children with a partner or on your own, good communication is essential whatever the circumstances:

  • Listen to your children 
  • Respect their feelings and fears (they may be different from yours)
  • Emphasise that what is happening is not their fault
  • Expect a change in behaviour for a time
  • Reassure them that your feelings for them remain the same
  • Keep them informed of agreements/decisions
  • Involve them in decisions about the family but not in arguments
  • Involve outside agencies for additional support and mediation (if appropriate)
  • Find support for yourself too!


Relationships Between Parents and Teenagers

Parents often have concerns about the behaviour of teenagers. These can range from what we might describe as ‘typical’ teenage behaviour such as staying out late, being cheeky or rude, to more extreme behaviour, violence and aggression. Parents also worry about their children’s friends, relationships and sexual health issues.

Being the parent of a teenager isn’t always easy, but then neither is being a teenager. Communication with teenagers often seems impossible. Remember that trying to understand the young person’s behaviour and considering different approaches will help you best react to your child becoming a teenager.

Why can the teenage years be difficult for you and your teenager? Being a teenager is about maturing towards adult life. Teenagers have to deal with lots of issues, such as:

  • Friendships and relationships
  • Sexual feelings and a changing body
  • Working out a system of their own values and morals, which may be different from yours
  • Learning new life skills
  • Forming a new adult relationship with you that will be the basis of your future together

Remember that through the teenage years you will be helping to guide your child towards adult life and will gradually hand over responsibilities and independence when your teenager shows they are ready. This can be difficult for both of you. If you understand and accept that some conflict is probably inevitable, you will be better prepared for it.

Why is Communication Important and How is it Possible?

Communication is the key to good family relationships. Without being able to talk and listen your teenager cannot let you know what they need, you can’t offer support and together you cannot negotiate over boundaries and acceptable behaviour. Communication both spoken and unspoken goes on all the time and body language, gestures and eye contact are all equally important.

  • If you want to talk, agree a convenient time − not when one of you is clearly involved in something else
  • Try to spend time alone without distractions from other family members
  • Use ‘open’ questions and avoid yes/no responses. ‘How did it go?’rather than ‘Did it go okay’?
  • Don’t fly off the handle if you don’t like what you hear. This is the surest way to close down communication
  • When you both have different viewpoints, try to work together to find a compromise
  • ‘Active listening’ is about looking beyond the words for what is really being felt and said. Teenagers may lash out against your authority and boundaries. Your task is to provide a consistent, safe and supportive environment for them to do this − it’s not easy but you can survive!
  • Try to be tolerant about experimental behaviour as long as it is safe. It’s all part of your teenager growing up and helps equip them for adulthood
  • Respect the need for privacy − they might not want to tell you everything
  • Be consistent in discipline − idle threats don’t work
  • Clearly state boundaries, but be prepared to discuss them with your teenager from time to time
  • Teenagers are not always able to tell you what’s wrong as they may not be exactly sure why they are acting the way they are

Remember that inside every teenager is still the child you know. Enjoy them as young adults and praise them and their achievements − they may open up a whole new world to you!

CHILDREN 1ST supports families across Scotland, and we know that sometimes everyone needs a listening ear. If you need someone to talk to about what’s on your mind, call our free helpline ParentLine Scotland on 0808 800 2222. Lines are open from 9am-5pm Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 9am-9pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

CHILDREN 1ST is the working name of the Royal Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which for over 120 years has been working to give every child in Scotland a safe and secure childhood. CHILDREN 1ST  supports families under stress, protects children from harm and neglect, helps them to recover from abuse and promotes children’s rights and interests. 

CHILDREN 1ST provides 40 services in 27 local authority areas as well as five national services, including ChildLine in Scotland (0800 1111) on behalf of the NSPCC.

More information about the work of  CHILDREN 1ST  please visit their website.

Related Services

Below are links to Services in the Edspace database that may be of interest:

External websites related to Family Relationships

These web sites may be useful. Please note that we are not responsible for external sites; if you find any broken links or inappropriate content please report it to the site administrators using the feedback page.

  • Childline
    24 hours a day, 7 days a week A free, confidential helpline for children and young people to talk about any problem. The website is also full of information and links. Remember, asking for help doesn't make you weak or attention-seeking. You deserve to be taken seriously, and it might be the first step towards a solution!
  • Parent Network Scotland
    Our core work is delivering courses and workshops in parenting skills to parents and professionals. Our courses are informal, practical and participative. We encourage parents to recognise and celebrate their existing skills, as well as developing new strategies for the future.
  • Children 1st – Parentline
    At some time all parents find that parenting can be difficult, stressful, even impossible. ParentLine Scotland is the free, confidential, telephone helpline for anyone caring for a child in Scotland. You can call about any problem, however big or small.

Phonelines Related to Family Relationships

  • Childline

    0800 1111

    24 hours a day, 7 days a week A free, confidential helpline for children and young people to talk about any problem. The website is also full of information and links. Remember, asking for help doesn't make you weak or attention-seeking. You deserve to be taken seriously, and it might be the first step towards a solution!

  • ParentLine Scotland

    0808 800 2222

    ParentLine Scotland is the free, confidential helpline run by Scottish charity CHILDREN 1ST. Its highly trained calltakers offer help advice, information, reassurance or just a friendly listening ear to stressed out parents or carers.

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