Is Your Child Alienated: part 4

© 2011 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

HOW CAN YOU PREVENT ALIENATION? You might be alienating your child against the other parent or against yourself, without even being conscious of it - especially during a divorce. Here are seven suggestions:

1. POSITIVE COMMENTS: Regularly point out positive qualities of the other parent to your child.

2. REPAIRING COMMENTS: All parents make negative comments about the other parent at times. If you realize you made such a comment, follow up with a “repairing comment”: “I just spoke negatively about your father [or mother]. I don’t really mean to be so negative. He has many positive qualities and I really value your relationship with him. I’m just upset and my feelings are my responsibility, not his and not yours.”

3. AVOID REINFORCING NEGATIVE COMMENTS: Healthy children say all kinds of things, positive and negative, about their parents – even about abusive parents. If there is abuse, have it investigated by professionals. If not, be careful that you are not paying undue attention to their negative comments and ignoring their positive comments.

4. TEACH PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES: If your child complains about the other parent’s behavior, unless it is abusive, suggest strategies for coping: “Honey, tell your father something nice before you ask for something difficult.”

“Show your mother the project you did again, she might have been busy the first time.” “If he/she is upset, maybe you can just go to your room and try not to listen and draw a picture instead.”

5. AVOID EXCESSIVE INTIMACY: Children naturally become more independent and self-aware as they grow up. Be careful not to be excessively intimate with your child for the child’s age, as this may create an unhealthy dependency on you. Examples include having the child regularly sleep with you in your bed beyond infancy; sharing adult information and decisions (such as about the divorce); and excessive sadness at exchanges or how you miss the child when he or she is at the other parent’s house.

6. AVOID EXCESSIVE COMPARISONS: When you emphasize a skill or characteristic that you have, don’t place it in comparison to weaknesses of the other parent. You each have different skills and qualities that are important to your child. By comparing yourself positively and the other parent negatively (even if this feels innocent), you can inadvertently influence your child. Remember that your child is a combination of both of you, and thinking negatively of one parent means the child may think negatively about half of himself or herself.

7. GET SUPPORT OR COUNSELING FOR YOURSELF: It is impossible to go through a divorce without getting upset some of the time. Protect your child from as much as possible by sharing your upset feelings with adult friends and family, away from your child. Get counseling to cope with the stress you are under.

WILL THE COURT ADDRESS THIS ISSUE? Routinely, in a divorce or separation, the court will order that neither parent shall make disparaging remarks about the other parent within hearing of the child. Some courts may ask you for 3 positive comments about the other parent or 3 steps you are taking to protect the child from absorbing your negative emotions toward the other parent. Think about this seriously, so that you are prepared to answer this question if it is raised. Most of all, practice the suggestions described above.

Please check out my book, “Don’t Alienate the Kids!” for more information on preventing child alienation.

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.