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How Parents Can Enhance Their Children's Adjustment During and After Parental Divorce (page 2)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Apr 21, 2014

Encourage the involvement of the noncustodial parent

Many noncustodial parents, who typically are fathers, fail to stay involved with their child after the divorce. This is unfortunate as a child's adjustment is enhanced by a positive, active relationship with both parents.

If you are the custodial parent, following are some ways you can encourage your ex-spouse to stay involved with your child.

  • Maintain low levels of hostility and high levels of cooperation between the two of you.
  • Do not criticize your ex-spouse in your child's presence.
  • Encourage your child to initiate activities with your ex-spouse.
  • Encourage phone calls, letters, and e-mails between your child and her other parent, especially if the other parent lives far away.
  • Encourage your child to take items, such as his artwork and photographs, to show or give to his other parent.
  • Talk to your ex-spouse about the good things, not just the problems, about your child and coparenting.

Communicate to your ex-spouse that you appreciate his parenting role.

Do not argue with your ex-spouse in front of your child

Cooperation between divorcing parents is always best for children; if cooperation is not possible, however, then absence of conflict in front of your child is your goal. Regardless of the gender or age of your child, repeatedly exposing him or her to conflict between you and your ex-spouse is harmful.

Parental conflict in front of children can take different forms. It may be subtle, such as making verbal 'jabs' at each other, or, alternatively, verbal conflict can be more overt and hostile, such as threatening, screaming, and cursing. Furthermore, conflict may escalate into physical acts of parents pushing, shoving, or even hitting one another. Physical conflict is worse for children than verbal conflict; however, both are harmful for children's psychological adjustment.

Beyond the form of conflict (i.e., verbal or physical), there are other aspects that have been identified as particularly detrimental for children. As Robert Emery of the University of Virginia has noted, conflict that is frequent, remains unresolved, and involves the child in the dispute is especially damaging.

Following are some recommendations for how to handle issues with your ex-spouse that are most likely to lead to conflict:

  • Focus on what is best for your child, not on whether you can win an argument with your ex-spouse.
  • When you are in the presence of your child and your ex-spouse, avoid controversial issues.
  • When you do discuss issues with your ex-spouse, without the child being present, follow these guidelines:

    • Make sure the child will not appear on the scene during the discussion.
    • Work diligently at remaining calm no matter how angry or verbally aggressive your ex-spouse becomes.
    • Always focus only on the issue of concern (i.e., avoid bringing up other issues or your ex-spouse's faults).
    • Use a problem-solving strategy. Clearly define the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, evaluate the possible solutions, decide which solution to use, and finally evaluate how well it worked.
    • Recognize when you need outside assistance to resolve an issue with your ex-spouse.
    • If conflict between you and your ex-spouse does occur in front of your child, do not talk about it with your child until you have calmed down.
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