Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Discipline Problems Related to Divorce
Children can have discipline difficulties related to their parent's divorce that show themselves in three major ways.
- Preexisting problems get worse. Preexisting or long-standing discipline problems that are not necessarily related to divorce are made worse by the divorce or separation.
- Children act out. Children are angry, disappointed, frustrated, or conflicted by aspects of their parents' divorce and therefore tend to act out.
- Children learn negative behavior. Children watch how their parents behave toward one another, and can in this way learn to be rude, insensitive, hostile, physically violent, disrespectful, and argumentative, to name only a few problem behaviors.
Let's look at each of these discipline problems a bit more closely.
Preexisting problems may exist because a child has a very difficult-to-manage behavioral style or temperament. There are some children who are predisposed to behavioral problems that arise from stubbornness, noncompliance, or aggressiveness in their genetic makeup. It is important for parents to know that their children are difficult and require specialized parenting techniques as opposed to simply blaming the divorce or blaming one another.
It is especially important for parents to cooperate in seeking appropriate intervention from counselors and therapists who specialize in this type of parenting. Preexisting problems are often made much worse by parenting conflicts. Difficulties related to the child erode the co-parenting relationship, while difficulties in the co-parenting relationship worsen the child's behavioral problems. Reducing these conflicts can improve both parents' ability to manage difficult behavior in children. High-conflict parents must choose whether it is more important to keep trying to get back at the other parent or to try to improve the behavior and ultimate success of their difficult child.
Sometimes the divorce is the sole issue that creates the foundation for most, if not all, of a child's disciplinary problems, as well as problems such as anxiety and depression. Children of divorced parents often discover that their disciplinary problems are the only things that bring their parents into the same room or same house to talk. This can reinforce the child's fantasy that Mom and Dad will get together again. The best way to approach this situation is to seek family counseling, in which this dynamic is likely to come to light.
If you are in this situation, you and your co-parent must do your best to communicate that you will always work as a team to make sure the children are healthy and happy, but that does not mean you will get back together. Some children have a difficult time forgiving their parents for separating. This can happen even when parents have a cordial relationship with one another, because it is difficult for kids to understand why people who can be nice to one another could not remain together.
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