Parent sits with their arm around their child to reassure them.


Coping with family difficulties

There are lots of reasons why the family dynamic can get tough. All families have their ups and downs. But there are things you can do to help you cope when you’re struggling.

Two people sat on a sofa talking seriously.

1. Acknowledge any changes in your family

Changes in your family can be anything, like a family member moving out, your parents separating or getting a divorce, you and your family moving home, or a parent changing jobs. These things can be unexpected and upsetting.

It’s very normal for changes in your family to affect how you think and feel. You might feel lonely because you’re not seeing a family member as much, or you might be worried about reaching out for help because you don’t want to be a “burden” when things are already tough. But it’s okay if you’re struggling and you need support.

A young Black man sitting on the ground in the park and staring into the camera.
I grew up believing that it was normal for your parents to argue, sleep apart and to ignore each other to avoid an argument.

2. Take time out when you’re arguing

If you’re arguing, try to remove yourself from the situation. If you feel uncomfortable or you or your family member are getting angrier, try to walk away if you can. This can help you take a moment to breathe, calm down and think about what you want to say. It can also help the other person to think about how they’re feeling.

Check out Sophie's tips on looking after yourself during arguments

3. Set boundaries with your family

Try talking to your family about having time for yourself or try to agree a time each day for you to have space away from them. This creates a clear boundary for your family to respect.

Find out more in our guide to self-care
A young Black woman talking about something serious with an older Black woman in the park.

4. Speak to someone outside your family

You might feel like you should rely on just your family for support but there are lots of other people you can talk to. Try to build a support network of people you trust, like friends or a teacher. You might even find it useful to ask someone else to explain things to your family in a helpful way to smooth things over.

Sometimes, friends can end up feeling like your chosen family. They can be the ones who support you when you’re struggling, or the ones who you feel most comfortable around. If you’re struggling with your family, remember there will always be someone there to support you.

  • It’s easy to feel like these changes are your fault because of something you’ve done, but remember that isn’t the case. Family changes happen for so many reasons and it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
  • Don’t expect to be the glue that keeps the family together. Your feelings and thoughts surrounding your situation are valid. Remember to breathe and take each day as it comes.

Talking to your family about how you're feeling

Lots of people find it helpful to lean on their family when they’re going through a tough time. But we know that opening up to family is a different experience for everyone, and it might not always be easy. It’s normal to worry how they’ll react, but chances are they’ll want to be there for you, even if they need a bit of help understanding.

Here are a few things you can do to improve the chances of it going well.

Pick a time when neither of you are busy or distracted, and you’re not likely to be interrupted. This can help you feel in control of the conversation.

Sometimes it can help to have something else to focus on while you’re talking. You could try cooking together, playing a game, or it could be as simple as going for a walk.

If you’re finding it difficult to explain how you’re feeling, try writing it down. It’s okay if you don’t share everything at once – having small conversations at first can help you feel more comfortable sharing your thoughts over time.

Your family might not react the way you expected, which can be frustrating. If it becomes overwhelming, try to remove yourself from the situation so you can calm down and gather your thoughts.

If you want what you share with your family to be kept between you, it’s helpful to say this before you start the conversation. It might also help to explain why this is important to you.

Sometimes, the person you decide to talk to might not share the same understanding of mental health as you. This could be because they have different values, worldviews, or belief systems. Or they might have been raised to view mental health as a taboo subject. If this is the case, it can be helpful to think about how to explain what you’re going through or feeling in a way they can understand.

If you speak more than one language at home, think about which one will work best for you both when talking about how you feel.

It's easy to get frustrated when you feel like you can't express yourself. Don't feel you need to explain everything in detail straight away, go with what you feel comfortable with first and take small steps.

If your family don't understand how you're feeling

Sometimes it can feel like your family don’t understand what you’re going through or how you’re feeling, or that they don’t accept it. This might be particularly hard if you’ve opened up to them about something and they haven’t reacted in the way you expected or hoped. But if this happens, remember it’s not your fault. It’s likely your family need a bit of time – they might not have realised how you’re feeling and it might have been a shock to them. After some time, if you feel ready to talk about it with them again, you might find they’re now more open to talk and have questions they want to ask to help them understand.

If your family aren’t supportive, or if they’re not willing to listen to how you’re feeling, other people can help you, like your friends, helpline services or a teacher. It might not always be the first person you speak to, but there will be someone who‘ll listen.

A mother and daughter looking at each other
She didn’t understand mental health problems and had lots of misconceptions and outdated ideas. It’s hard to explain the complexities of mental health, and almost impossible when you are in the midst of struggling.
  • Remember there is still at least one person who does love you and thinks you are worth something.
  • Take things one step at a time and be patient with yourself.

Getting support with family issues

A young Black woman in a wheelchair talking to an older Black woman on a bench in the park.

Having occasional arguments or disagreements with your family is normal. But there are times when family relationships become unhealthy. This can look like:

  • constant pressure for you to take part in family gatherings that make you feel uncomfortable
  • pressure to see a family member that you do not feel okay around
  • falling out all the time, making you feel on edge around them
  • bullying behaviour like constantly being shouted at, being left out and ignored, or a family member making you feel guilty, ashamed or bad about yourself
  • abuse or violence happening to you or another family member

If you’re being abused by someone in your family, or you see a family member abusing someone else, it’s important to get help. It’s never okay, and it’s unlikely to stop on its own.

Different types of abuse might be affecting you or your family:

  • Physical abuse

    When someone physically hurts you.

  • Emotional abuse

    When someone is always making you feel bad about yourself.

  • Sexual abuse

    When someone is forcing you to do something sexual.

Abuse is always wrong, and although it can be very difficult to talk about, it’s important to reach out for help.

Get more support in our guide to abuse

If you don't feel safe in your own home

If you feel at risk or don’t feel safe at home, reach out for help:

  • speak to someone outside of your home like a teacher, sports coach or faith leader who can help you find support
  • call Childline on 0800 1111
  • text SHOUT to 85258 to speak to a trained adviser who can help you get the support you need

If you’re not able to stay safe and might be hurt by someone at home, call the emergency services on 999. It can feel scary but it’s important that you reach out, and the emergency services can reach you quickly. They will support you to remove yourself from the situation and find a safe space.

Get help now

Unhealthy family relationships can really affect your mental health, leading to feelings of distrust, anxiety, and isolation. If you’re struggling with your family, getting support is crucial, even if it means speaking to people outside of your immediate family. Here is a list of organisations and helpline services that can support you.

  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
  • Albert Kennedy Trust

    Supports LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25 in the UK who are facing or experiencing homelessness, or living in a hostile environment.

    You can refer yourself online to arrange a face-to-face appointment with a member of staff in their Bristol, London, Manchester or Newcastle centres.

    They also offer a free webchat service.

  • Muslim Youth Helpline

    Provides faith and culturally sensitive support for young Muslims. 

    Online chat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 10pm, 365 days a year
  • LawStuff

    Provides free legal information to children and young people aged 10-25.

    Fill out their contact form online to get support.

  • Cafcass

    A website that gives information on the interests of children involved in family proceedings for children, teenagers and adults.

  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:

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