Forcing children to “take sides” in divorce can cause long-lasting psychological damage. As studies consistently show, rates of anxiety and depression are higher in children of divorce with high-conflict co-parents. On the flip side, the lower the conflict between co-parents, the better kids are able to thrive. Here’s why — plus 5 helpful co-parenting tips for making sure your kids don’t have to choose sides.
Better mental health. Because it’s the conflict between parents — and not divorce in and of itself — that’s the cause for most emotional issues, children with mutually supportive co-parents experience less anxiety, less depression, and better academic performance before, during and after their parents’ divorce.
Better self-concept. Children are a product of two parents; they internalize the messages they receive about Mom and Dad. Speaking respectfully about your ex, and supporting your child’s relationship with them, will allow your child to embrace the parts of himself that are like the other parent. Children of relatively civil divorces are also less likely to feel shame about their family situation.
Learn relationship skills. Your children are watching you to learn how to relate to others. Treating your ex with respect, compromising when appropriate, and resolving conflict in as peaceful a manner as possible will teach your kids how mature adults are supposed to interact – even when they disagree.
Healthy attachment. When children can to bond with both parents, they grow up to believe that relationships are safe harbors. Securely attached children tend to become securely attached adults who feel that they deserve a good relationship.
They can enjoy their childhood. Growing up in the middle of a war zone can sap the fun out of being a kid. Children with supportive co-parents don’t need to expend energy fighting their parents’ battles, so they’re free to play, learn, and develop a sense of agency.
Co-Parenting Tips: Stop Your Kids From Needing To Take Sides
Is your ex is bound and determined to win The Best Parent award? Trying to enlist the kids as judges? Don’t despair! You can still take steps to keep your children out of the middle. Here are 5 co-parenting tips to remember.
Respect your ex’s boundaries. Accept the fact that you have different households. Don’t meddle, pump the kids for details when they come back from visitation, or give them the impression that they can come to you if they don’t like their other parent’s rules. (The exception to this is when you have evidence that your co-parent is behaving in ways that legitimately threaten your children’s safety).
Don’t speak badly of your ex. This doesn’t just mean direct put-downs, but also the subtle ways you may telegraph to the kids that you think their other parent is a jerk: sarcasm, eye rolls, hostile body language. If your ex has a diagnosed mental health disorder or addiction issue, or when abuse has occurred, then you need to acknowledge reality — but make sure you do so in a straightforward manner, without gloating or anger.
Don’t share information about court battles. Don’t leave documentation where children can read it, talk to your attorney on the phone near little ears, or openly discuss the “terrible” things your ex is doing during the divorce. In the middle of a custody dispute? Under no circumstance should you ever pressure your kids to make up incriminating evidence about your ex, or tell a custody evaluator that they want nothing to do with their other parent.
Model respectful behavior. Your children will take their cue from you, so behave like a grown-up. You don’t have to like your ex to be pleasant when you see them. Say “please” and “thank you.” Be cordial and cooperative during visitation drop-offs, and at social functions such as birthday parties, parent-teacher conferences, and sports events.
Make visitation easy. Don’t get teary or anxious when your kids are headed off for visitation, or act disappointed when they talk about fun things they did with your ex. You should never make them feel that they have to take care of you by distancing themselves from their other parent. Do your part to facilitate smooth transitions and be enthusiastic when they tell you what a good time they had at Mom or Dad’s.
The best thing you can do for your child is to facilitate their relationship with their other parent. If you follow the steps above, you will teach your kids that people can overcome their differences and that families are there to support each other. You want them to grow up believing that their well-being is far more important than your feelings about your ex.
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