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Top tips to help you stay calm during disagreements or arguments

Disagreements and arguments may leave you feeling overwhelmed and helpless, and affect your children. There are things you can do that will help you feel stronger and ready to deal with them such as staying calm.

If you are looking for general relationship help for you and your partner, visit Relate.

For a free private online chat room where you can talk to a listener about your relationship, go to Click relationships: Listening room.

Calming down in the moment

Stop what you're doing. If you're already feeling stressed stop arguing with your partner. Sometimes, even taking a few seconds before you head back into the situation can be enough to help you cool down.

  • Before you reply in a heated conversation or situation, try counting to ten or take a break.
  • If an argument with your partner is getting heated, stop and excuse yourself for a moment by saying something like, "I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I need to take a 15-minute break before we continue discussing this." Go to a different place, or another room to calm down.

See Very well mind: 11 anger management strategies to help You calm down.

Try breathing exercises

Stop what you're doing. Breathing exercises don't have to take a lot of time out of your day. It's really just about setting aside some time to pay attention to your breathing to help you calm down. Here are a few ideas to get started.

  • Begin with just five minutes a day when you are not in a stressful situation and increase your time as the exercise becomes easier and more comfortable.
  •  If five minutes feels too long, start with just two minutes.

Breathing exercise for stress - some top tips

This calming breathing technique for stress, anxiety and panic takes just a few minutes and can be done anywhere. You will get the most benefit if you do it regularly, as part of your daily routine. You can do it standing up, sitting in a chair that supports your back, or lying on a bed or yoga mat on the floor. Make yourself as comfortable as you can. If you can, loosen any clothes that restrict your breathing, relax your neck and shoulders.

  • Let your breath flow as deep down into your belly as is comfortable, without forcing it.
  • Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Breathe in gently and regularly. Some people find it helpful to count steadily from one to five. You may not be able to reach five at first.
  • Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from one to five again, if you find this helpful.
  • Keep doing this for three to five minutes.

See NHS: Breathing exercises for stress.

Look after yourself

Get some exercise like going for a walk. This may help clear your head and reduce your stress. Even a ten minute walk or dancing can help relieve tension and stress. See Mind: How to improve your mental wellbeing.

Use your support system

Don't be afraid to ask for help and advice. If you have friends or loved ones that you can trust, lean on them to help you. Let them know you need help and need to talk. See Talkspace: how to strengthen your support system.

Top tips for Dads is a website that provides good quality relationship advice for Dads. There are articles, advice and information which can help you with your relationship with your wife/partner/ex-partner.

Work it out

When family life is good, children thrive and if parents get on well together it is better for the children. Finding better ways to deal with conflict in the family and communicating in more positive ways helps children feel more secure: children are likely to feel happier, healthier and do better at school. Children who see adults working out relationship problems in a constructive way are more likely to follow this example and have better relationships with others and enjoy life.

What can you both do?

Listen to each other. Maybe you feel you're at each other's throats and you've forgotten how to have a positive conversation.

  • Choose a calm time - ideally not mid-argument.
  • Seeing things from your partner's point of view is vital to sorting out any disagreement - for both of you.
  • Start things off on a positive note. Try not to be sarcastic or critical.
  • Think and talk about how this is affecting your children and what you can do differently.

Listen to your child/children

Listening - it's not as easy as it sounds. You might hear something you don't want to hear such as that your child is unhappy. You might hear something that will make you want to change. To talk with somebody, you've got to listen.

Listening carefully is how:

  • you gather information about what's going on in your child's life and head
  • the first step in solving problems is listening which can teach you a lot about what needs to change
  • children are smart and generally know how arguing is affecting them you just need to listen

Make a plan, take action by using "I" statements

This can help you to start to make a plan and help you express how you both feel and what needs to change.

  • I feel = name the feeling; upset, annoyed, sad, etc.
  • When = describe the behaviour or situation ie: you shout at me.
  • I need = state the preferred behaviour "you to listen to me and not shout".

Your child's behaviour

You may have a child with additional needs, or a child who has developed some behaviour that challenges you. It can be a relief to discover that other parents are facing the same issues. 

You may feel under a lot of pressure to:

  • 'solve' the behaviour problems on your own
  • blame yourself and worry about not parenting well
  • feel that others think you are a bad parent and therefore very alone

Useful websites:

Things that can affect your child's behaviour

  • You're having a difficult time - children are quick to notice if you're feeling upset or there are relationship problems in the family. They may behave badly when you feel least able to cope. If you are having problems do not blame yourself, but do not blame your child either if they react with difficult behaviour.
  • Life changes - any change in a child's life can be difficult for them. This could be the birth of a new baby, moving to a new house, a change of childminder, starting playgroup or something much smaller.
  • Needing attention - your child might see a tantrum as a way of getting attention, even if it's bad attention. They may wake up at night because they want a cuddle or some company. Try to give them more attention when they are behaving well and less when they're being difficult.

Do not feel you have to cope alone. If you're struggling with your child's behaviour:

  • If your child is under 6, you can talk to your Health Visitor - they will be happy to support you and suggest some new strategies to try can be found at NSPCC Learning.
  • If your child is over 6, you can contact your local  or First Contact.

If you do not live with your children

You may have a child with additional needs, or a child may be beginning to develop some behaviour that challenges you. Becoming a separated dad or mum when you have been a full-time parent is not easy. Trying to adapt from being with your children all the time, to limited visits maybe once or twice a week - or even less in some cases - can be heartbreaking, for you and for them.

It is at times like this that talking to other parents, or to someone impartial outside your situation, is so important. There are organisations that can help such as Cafcass.

Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) represents children in family court cases in England. They put children's needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children's voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting, and that decisions are made in their best interests.

Cafcass's experienced Family Court Advisers may be asked by the court to work with families and then advise the court on what they consider to be the best interests of the children involved in three main areas:

  •  divorce and separation, sometimes called 'private law', where parents or carers can not agree on arrangements for their children
  • care proceedings, sometimes called 'public law', where social services have serious concerns about the safety or welfare of a child
  • adoption, which can be either public or private law

Handling arguments

Arguments are common in all kinds of relationships. Some degree of conflict can even be healthy, as it means both people are expressing themselves, rather than keeping everything inside, or letting emotions become negative. But if you're arguing all the time, or simple disagreements end up in a hostile silence or screaming match, it can really start to affect the children - or even leave you wondering whether you want to split up.

Learning ways to handle disagreements constructively and how you deal with it that counts. Some top tips:

  • Timing - getting the timing right - try to choose a time when your partner is most receptive, and neither partner is tired.
  • Approach - approaching the issue gently - try not to start with a negative or hostile comment.
  • Complaint or personal attack? There is a difference between a complaint and a personal criticism - choosing words carefully focusing on behaviour not personality or character.
  • Tackle head-on - tackling issues as they come up - not letting things fester or bottle up.
  • Sensitivity - knowing each other's buttons and what not to push - tread gently when on sensitive ground.
  • Underlying issues - understanding that an argument can be a symptom of other things - make some allowances for outside stresses or deeper issues that can affect how either partner feels and behaves.
  • Their view, resolution - not seeing it as a battle to be won or lost - arguments are about finding solutions to differences not just getting your own way. Take turns to have a say and be prepared to compromise.
  • Don't assume, not second guessing - listening to what the other partner is really saying instead of making assumptions.
  • Tact - learning what helps to stop things escalating. Get to know the small things that can be said or done when things are getting heated, perhaps using humour, acknowledging what your partner is saying, saying you're sorry they are upset.
  • Accepting perpetual problems - every couple will have some issues that are too difficult to resolve, so trying will only lead to frustration, anger and "gridlock." What seems to work is being able to "make peace" with the problem by communicating acceptance of their partner and using humour and affection.

For more help visit OnePlusOne or HelpGuide.

Every family is different

Many families face similar issues and challenges, Relate have summed up some of the most common problems and put together some practical tips to help families face them together.

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