What to Tell the Kids About a High-Conflict Co-Parent
What to Tell the Kids About a High-Conflict
by guest blogger Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute
Rather than talking to the kids about a “high-conflict” co-parent (and you should never use that term around the children), talk about “four big skills for life.” These skills are:
• flexible thinking
• managing emotions
• moderate behaviors
• checking ourselves to see if we’re using these skills regularly
Tell your kids that these four skills help in any relationship, whether it’s with someone you like or someone you don’t like. You can explain this to a child of almost any age, starting at least at age four, if you put it in simple terms.
Then, in daily life you can ask them if they noticed other people who used these skills in solving problems, or if you used any of these four skills in solving a problem. For example: “Did you notice how that guy at the store was frustrated, but he stayed calm and listened to the clerk tell him where to find what he wanted? Would you say he was managing his emotions?”
“Did you notice how that guy on TV was just yelling at a store clerk. Would you say he was managing his emotions? Did he seem to get what he wanted? No, he didn’t. How do you think he could have used managed emotions to help solve his problem?”
After taking an educational approach to teaching these four big skills, you can start using them when things happen with your co-parent. Suppose he or she was unreasonably angry at your child, and the child came to you to complain. Rather than saying that your co-parent is a jerk, you could say: “Remember, some people have a harder time managing their emotions than other people. When you’re ready, let’s do some flexible thinking about ways you might deal with situations like that in the future. In the meantime, we can manage our own emotions, even if some other people can’t.”
By speaking in this “teaching skills” way about the other parent, you avoid “bad-mouthing” him or her, while giving your child skills for resilience. This way, you can’t be blamed for saying anything specifically about your co-parent. Instead, you have kept it as a general lesson and still provided a discussion about what to do in the future in “situations like that.”
By teaching the “four big skills for life,” you can help your child learn lessons that will last into adulthood.
Bill Eddy is the author of the book Don’t Alienate the Kids: Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High Conflict Divorce (HCI Press, 2010), which explains this approach in greater detail. His website is: www.HighConflictInstitute.com.