The Number One Destructive Parental Behavior Post-Divorce
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have
worked with children of all ages for over twenty years.
Usually parents drag their kids into my office complaining
of a litany of bad behaviors, ranging from not cleaning up
their rooms, to getting bad grades, hitting their siblings,
or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs. I work with
parents to change their children's behavior. It is very
helpful for the parents to know their children's experiences,
especially after a divorce. This and the next article
address what the child thinks about
There are reasons parents separate, and after the
separation, these reasons crystallize; that is, they come to
the surface much more easily, if they had not already.
Often these are so strong that they interfere with the parent's
ability to deal with the child's feelings. The single biggest
thing that makes children's behaviors worse is parental
hostility and conflict. (Read this last sentence about three
times. I cannot underscore it enough....) The sooner
parents accept and peacefully process the separation; the sooner
the children will start to adjust. Put negatively, the longer
parents fight or resist separation and/or the changes brought
about by divorce, the longer their children suffer. The same
can be said for the parents continued suffering by not accepting
each other and continuing the verbal warfare. One parent
recently told me his child did not see or experience any
negativity at his house directed to the "ex." Wrong! This
parent did not hear what the child said, nor did this parent
appreciate any of the non-verbal indicators I saw in the child.
Further, when asked what she thought about this situation in her
parent's house, the child lied to the parent, even after telling
me the truth. Children understand much more about parent's real
feelings than parents know. Parents might consider going to a
counselor themselves to process their inter-relationship hostility
"out of earshot" of the child. It may help a lot, not just
to vent, but to learn new communication skills, practiced on a
Or, try taking the child to a counselor for the same reasons.
The counselor might be designated as the child's advocate, or the
counselor's office might be designated "the safe place," separate
from parental influence. For example, during sessions, counselors
probably will teach parents to allow the child to feel anything he
or she wants, because chances are good there will be a variety of
strong, negative feelings, and all of them are probably appropriate,
even though at times they might manifest in extreme behaviors.
To do this effectively for both the parent and child, the parent
must be comfortable with his or her own feelings. If you are not
comfortable with this level of functioning, do not expect your child
to be, either. Sooner or later, the parent will have to be his or
her own best psychologist and/or child psychologist, and to learn
to emotionally and verbally communicate well.
A very big area of concern for children is how well their
self-esteems fare in an environment of divorce. (This is so
crucial that I wrote a separate ebook on just this subject.
It is entitled, Child Visitation and the Formation of Self-Esteem.
This ebook is FREE. See Resource Box below to find out where to
go for the download.) Protecting a child’s self-esteem is very
important. In this area, a child psychologist may be crucial.