Parental Conflict Impedes Reunification

The trauma of parental conflict holds children in abeyance.  How can they build healthy relationships with either parent?  They are put in the position of defending one or defending self or mediating arguments or punishing a parent.  Sometimes they shut down.  Sometimes they self-destruct.  Sometimes they refuse to see one parent and the other blames everyone but self. Give kids a chance. Stop fighting with the other parent.  If you don’t know how to do that, get help and learn communication tools and how to manage your own reactivity. Don’t engage with the parent who, so far, cannot approach problems from a sound psychological position.  Model power to change and in doing so, teach your child how to attend to self, recognize and control emotions, resolve the past, refrain from arguments based on what is fair, separate emotions from situations, and manage anger. Withdraw from conflict.  That is the foundation of co-parenting.  Relieve your children from having to make a choice between mom or dad and from taking the place of “parent” in a dysfunctional, conflict-ridden family. Make an appointment.  Learn to walk away from debilitating conflict and regain fulfilling relationship with your...
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Tips on “Stepping”

“Stepping” is my term for parenting a stepchild. While this experience can be joyful and bring dimension to your life; it is fraught with pitfalls. So let’s look at a few do’s from The Do’s and Don’t’s list. 1. Do discuss in the family forum (weekly family meetings ) with the child and the child’s parent, the household standards. Let the child’s parent lead the meeting. Identify yourself as an equal member of the group. Offer your contribution as to “rules” and standards and let the group or the parent make the decision. If you don’t agree with the decision or think that you cannot enforce it, Don’t accept responsibility in situations where you are alone with the child. 2. Do check your emotions at the door. Frustration is probably the biggest detractor to harmony in the home. When you feel frustration build, try a few calming techniques. For example, stop talking, review the rules in your head, asked the child once for compliance, present the child with choices, and most importantly….allow the parent to enforce the consequences when at all possible. Don’t raise your voice, make ultimatums, or allow anger to get in the way of that goal. 3. Do honestly assess your ability to assume the role of authority when the child’s parent is not present. It may not be possible at times in your stepping, to be the authority figure. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. 4. Do try to identify and understand the many reasons the child might not comply with the rules when you are in a position of responsibility. The child might not see you as an equal parent. The child might be harboring anger over the loss of the other parent due to separation or divorce. The child might not be able to follow through with the task at hand. The child might have different standards with different people, and depending on the child’s age, may not be able to manage all the rules. The child might have difficulty with transition from one home to the next. The child might use nonverbal communication, that is noncompliance with rules, as a way of expressing emotion. Don’t “push the river” if compliance is not forthcoming. 5. Do remain in constant communication with the other parent and be willing to step back from the situation. It is not always true that your goals,...
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Kids take control-part 2

As promised, here is the rest of the story. We were talking about ways children take control of the family environment, and hold parents hostage through several predictable milestones in each family’s life. We left off with homework in the last blog entry. Here are some ideas concerning grades choice of friends, chores, TV and electronics and finally dating. Grades-mean different things to different families. For example, they represent the importance of education, way to earn self-esteem, gateway to higher education, indication of preferences for future vocation or profession, association with peers, and adherence to family standards. Some or all of these examples are part and parcel of parents’ focus on grades. Other matters affect grades too. For example, children experiencing anxiety and high levels of stress, approach school in different ways. Such events as separation and/ or divorce, other major changes in the family structure (unemployment, moving, and death of a parent) turn a child’s life upside down. Sometimes the only place they have control is at school. At school, they are responsible for their behavior and recognized for their accomplishments. In a sad way, they are also recognized for their individuality and resistance to conformity, including grades. The best way to foster good grades is to give the child control of his or her behavior and recognize that performance at school reflects on his or her ability to control circumstance apart from the family situation. It is at school where they can demonstrate the true essence of who they are. Parents who realize this and encourage their child to make good choices are more apt to experience success in this area. Linking grades to rewards is the same as receiving pay for a job well done at work. Kids respond to rewards just as we respond to pay. Choice of friends-kids like to belong. They strive to find a group where they feel heard and respected. Helping them choose a group that fits their wants and needs is not easy. Encouraging them to think for themselves in the context of the group is a good way to assist them in making wise choices. Sometimes we need to alert them to the consequences of poor choices. For example, hanging out with kids who shoplift, even though they are not participating in the theft, will lead to juvenile court and a possible detention. For example, dressing in an individualistic...
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Kids Take Control-part 1

Kids take control: Take it back by presenting their choices! As children grow and change, they can accept more and more responsibility. Wrangling control from mom and dad starts early, really early. For example, potty training , choice of food and time to eat and bedtime (including monsters in the closet) are the first battles that might become a center of attention. Next is going to school. Then, homework becomes an issue. Later on, grades, choice of friends, chores, tv and electronic games and dating. WOW. Kids can choose to reign all powerful unless we outsmart them! Don’t argue. Don’t demand control. Set up the structure in your home so the kids have a choice and learn to manage the consequences. So, here are some ideas: Potty training: kids love to mimic their parent. Get them a small potty and teach by example. Reward with positive words when they start to do it themselves. One big incentive might be to buy a toy for them on the day you no longer have to buy a box of diapers! Mealtime can be fun! Good nutrition is important and so is harmony in the home. Therefore, a broad range of good food and choice of favorites is a way to encourage compliance. Routine so that children can depend on a time for meals helps. Lastly, small snacks during the day helps children not be too hungry and a good way to sneak in vegetables and healthy food. Don’t argue over food and amount of food. Manage the pantry so all is ok to eat. Take older kids (five and up) to the market and let them help select foods. Bedtime must be managed from the beginning or it is difficult to change habits. Additionally, family changes such as a move, divorce, custody requirements and potty training can make continuity challenging. A routine at bedtime helps. Monsters in the closet say they don’t want to be alone or are anxious. Bath, jammies, brushing teeth, a story and prayer help them start to wind down and relax. Reassuring messages at bedtime and a review of daily accomplishments work for them as well as parents! Going to school signals “big girl” and “big boy” status. Selecting a lunchbox every year is a way to get excited about the first day. School clothing purchased and saved so they look terrific as they walk into the...
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Mom has a boyfriend….

When Mom has a boyfriend or Dad’s remarried, for example, parents must stay focused on the needs of their child.While many parents create a loving “new family” through remarriage, it has to be done with attention to a child’s needs and point of view. Bringing a new person into the family might threaten the child’s sense of security and belonging.Parents who have successfully incorporated a mate have managed by talking to their child and listening when he/she expresses concerns or fears about their changing world.Kids need their parents’ love and attention and do not want to compete with a new partner. Parents look at dating and remarriage as a way to rebuild their lives.Children, on the other hand, face sharing their parents with other spouses and usually more kids, changes that often rock their world.Consequently, children often feel like they lose some of their parent’s attention and protection in the shuffle.It is no doubt that a child might view mom or dad’s dating as intrusive, competitive and destructive.Dating and remarriage asks the child to shift loyalties and accept a “surrogate” parent, and the challenge of fitting into a new family structure.New parents mean more responsibility for the child.Instead of two parents managing their life, they have three or four.With so many changes, children lose a sense of security. Before bringing a new person into your family system, talk with your child.Assure him or her that a new person in your life does not replace his or her other parent.Reinforce your words with actions.Promise that dating and marriage does not mean that your relationship with your child will be a lower priority.Spend as much time with your child as you can. Create “special time” for just the two of you.Admit that this new person is your companion, and at the same time, you will always be there for your...
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When parents were angry, the kid lost.

It happened again last night. There in my counseling office was a pretty young girl inched into the corner of the sofa, tears streaming down her cheeks. She was staying out late, cutting class and flunking two courses. Her father was sitting in the other corner of the “L” shaped sofa with a folder of Court documents on his lap. He angrily demeaned the child’s mother. She was defending her mother and wanted to spend weekends with her. He was justifying his reason for not allowing her to go. His position was that he had a court order limiting visitation when her mother’s husband was present. Based on a domestic violence case, the Court had issued an order stating that the parents were not to allow the child to be in the company of this man. Since then, on previous occasions, the father had allowed the daughter to spend the night with her mother and her mother’s husband when he thought it was OK. Now however, now he was angry at the mother for her inconsistent visitation attendance and lack of child support and his ulterior motive, hidden even to him, was to punish the mother and deny her visitation. Of course this was not lost on the daughter, now fifteen years old. She saw through the inconsistency, noted that the husband had completed his domestic violence year-long course and his three-year probation was terminated. Daughter said there had been no reoccurring problems and even if there were, she would leave the conflict and call her father to come and get her. Father said that he knew of another domestic violence incident in the recent past and was afraid for his daughters safety. What to do? First look at the facts: 1. Father was concerned about the well being of his daughter and he has a duty to protect. However, the previous visitation order is six years old, created when the daughter was 11 years old and he disregarded it in the past. 2. Circumstances have changed since the order was issued. Probation has ended and his daughter is a teenager, more capable of taking care of herself. 3. Father and daughter do not have enough information to make an informed decision. 4. They must follow a Court order. Solutions and Suggestions: 1. Father agrees to find out if there are any police reports indicating recent domestic violence. If...
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