Help Your Kids Cope with a High-Conflict Parent

If you married a high conflict person, you know how that relationship can rob you of your self-esteem and make you feel like you are losing your sense of reality. Imagining your son or daughter having the same experience can be scary. As with all other life lessons we wish we could spare our kids from experiencing, this is another chance for you to give your children the skills they need to manage difficult people who will come in and out of their lives even into adulthood.

The method you use to give your children the skills they need will vary depending on the age of the child. Mental health professionals and experts in helping children through their parents’ divorce all agree that you should not speak negatively about the other parent. This can be difficult for a parent who recognizes the other parent’s personality disorder and sees its impact on a child. Focusing on building skills for managing difficult people rather than specifically dealing with a high conflict parent is a healthy way to give children the tools they need.

We have all heard of “teachable moments” and as a parent with a high conflict ex-spouse, we can embrace the opportunity to teach our children the skills they need to deal with all high conflict people (without calling out the other parent). Children will encounter high-conflict people in school, in sports, in their social circles, and eventually in work. Giving them skills now will give them the strength to protect themselves later.

Bill Eddy, of the High Conflict Institute teaches three main skills everyone can benefit from mastering. The three skills are: managing emotions, exhibiting moderate behavior, and embracing flexible thinking. High conflict individuals tend to have extreme behaviors (from extreme love to extreme hate), rigid thinking, and can have emotional outbursts. When dealing with high conflict individuals, it is easy to engage in the same level of extreme emotional response, but engaging a high conflict person only feeds the conflict. Learning to focus on skills which keep us calm and help us disengage can keep us from being drawn in to unnecessary conflict. Teaching children these skills early will give them better relationship skills not only with their parents, but with everyone they encounter in life. Modeling these skills will also help your child learn to manage difficult situations and high conflict individuals.

It can be very hard to see our children deal with a high conflict parent, but giving them the tools they need to be healthy in their interpersonal relationships will help them avoid the harmful impact which results from relationships with high conflict people, now and for the rest of their life.