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What it means to work helping to reduce parental conflict

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Personal Reflection by Emma Rahman, Relationship/Family Practitioner

I absolutely loved supporting the parents to think about better ways to cope with emotions, such as when they focused on their breathing technique and did some mindfulness exercises.”

Emma works delivering specialist support as part of a funded programme, run by Tavistock Relationships, across several English local authorities. Here she describes her first experience working with a couple in London, who had been referred to her, in need of help working through their relationship difficulties in order to improve their parenting.

“Hello, my name is Emma, and I am a parenting/relationship practitioner working part of a dedicated team who are committed to making a huge difference in the lives of the families in conflict.

We have received weeks of intensive training, learning and understanding how to effectively support parents who find it difficult to communicate or get on well.  I was fortunate to receive the first case in the ‘Building Relationship for Stronger Families’ programme. This is a new exciting programme that started on the 1st of April 2019 and has been funded by the Department of Work and Pensions for the next two years. The programme is based on research that estimates that 11% of all children, and 28% of children in workless families, have parents in a distressed relationship.

After looking at the parents’ questionnaires, I was all fired up to get started immediately.  I contacted the co-parents who had been separated for three years to arrange a venue close to their homes where they could easily meet me individually and would feel relaxed. Their engagement was great, as they seemed quite interested to receive support about Family Transitions, which is a Triple P positive parenting programme over seven sessions, though in other areas we are using slightly different types of help.

This particular support includes providing both parents with a workbook consisting of practical exercises to use as a guide to help understand and keep the focus on their child’s development including:

-managing conflict

-taking care of themselves

-managing stresses and the strains co-parenting can have on their relationship.

Some of the exercises involved role-play and practising on strengthening communication in order to prevent disagreements escalating. 

Throughout the weeks, I encouraged both parents to practice different strategies they wanted to try, gave them an opportunity to self-evaluate in a safe non-judgemental space of what worked well and how things can be done differently, and prompted them to do a little homework after each session to help put what they learned into practice.  Each week, I was so inspired to see each parent share their positive experiences as well as be open and honest about their fears and difficulties. 

Session two in the programme is my favourite; I absolutely loved supporting the parents to think about better ways to cope with emotions, such as when they focused on their breathing technique and did some mindfulness exercises.  The parents were able to practice with me in the room and then put into practice at home. For example, I used a chocolate bar helping the parents to focus at the moment in what they feel, see, hear, taste and smell.  Both parents loved this simple exercise to recognise how to manage stressful situations which often occur in their day-to-day lives.

The weeks flew past and my main challenge was to keep to the two hours per session as we had so much to discuss. Most of our focus was thinking about their goals and what steps they could make, however small, to reach their goals, such as finding time in a busy day to take a ten-minute walk in the park in order to promote their self-care.

At the final session, I presented them with a certificate for successfully completing the Family Transition programme and both parents recognised a strong sense of hope to the possibility that their co-parent relationship could actually improve and that they each have the confidence to make positive changes to their lives and their families. At the end, each parent gave me feedback about their experience. “

What the participating parents said.

The mother stated;

“I strongly recommend people to learn new skills and I feel there is hope for the future”.

The father said;

“Even if you feel you know everything it still helps talking to someone and coming to an understanding that you have done well.  Keep going and not to look back”.

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