1. Recognize and Deal with Signs of Distress in Your Children.
- Altered sleep or eating habits
- Declining scholastic performance
- Frequent, sudden or broad mood changes
- Acting out with anger, aggression, or defiance
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Lethargy or disinterest
- Infantile or other regressive behavior
- Becoming accident-prone
- Excessive catering to parents, which may signal a child’s self-blame for the divorce
If you observe such behavior, contact a mental health professional. Also consider consulting with a divorce coach who can help improve communication with your children, and your ability to care for them during your divorce.
2. Step AWAY from the Buttons!
Spouses in dysfunctional marriages know well how to expose each other’s vulnerabilities and provoke each other’s anger. Use that knowledge to avoid pushing your spouse’s buttons, because anything that increases parental conflict increases the prospects for harm to your kids.
Also, use what you know about your quarrelsome co-parent to avoid confrontations. During any encounters with your spouse be careful not to convey disrespect in front of the children either by words or by body language.
3. Confirm Substantive Conversations with Your Co-Parent.
Confirming conversations in writing can make it more difficult) for your co-parent to claim that he/she had no knowledge of a parenting schedule change, or that you failed to share notice of a teacher’s meeting. A quick email or text can avoid many such “misunderstandings,” and save your kids the additional conflict such misunderstandings generate.
4. Include Sufficient Details in Any Agreements You Reach.
Avoid vague and unspecific language, which opens the door to confusion and misinterpretation.
5. Plan Ahead for Constructive Discussions with Your Co-Parent.
Avoid additional conflict and enhance your chances of productive discussions by leaving as little to chance as possible during discussions.
An example could be whether your son should go out for his high school football team. Your spouse argues the virtues of discipline and teamwork, but you are concerned about evidence of concussive brain injuries suffered by high school football players.
First, clearly define the scope of the discussion to the here and now. That will help prevent it from deteriorating into a blame game of past injustices, real or imagined. Take some time before the discussion to understand your spouse’s concerns. You may realize that your spouse is not just arguing to argue but genuinely believes that playing on the team would be good for your son.
During the discussion, use that understanding to help you address your spouse with empathy and respect. You might concede the benefits of discipline and teamwork but suggest another sport that offers them without as much health risk.
Once the discussion has reached its conclusion or is no longer productive, end it politely but firmly.
6. Reassure Your Children
Tell your kids obvious things that bear repeating: that you love them, that the divorce is not in any way their fault, and that you will be there to help them through it. Revisit those themes often. It may sound corny, but those messages are critical to your children.
7. Keep Your Kids off the Battlefield.
Don’t argue in front of the kids. The more directly children experience their parents’ high conflict, the worse off they are.
Don’t complain about, disparage or mock your co-parent at the breakfast table, on Facebook, or anywhere else. This increases the anxiety that causes lasting emotional harm to children. Your conduct is the model for how your children will handle difficult situations they may encounter when they become parents.