Frustrated teen grabbing head in pain

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It’s no secret that divorce is hard on kids. In fact, a recent study found that children of divorce experience a number of negative outcomes, such as increased anxiety and depression, lower academic achievement, and problems in their own relationships. One major reason for this is the conflict the child often feels when it comes to being loyal to both of his or her parents This conflict can cause kids to feel like they have to choose sides between their parents, and it makes them feel guilty and confused. In this article, we will take a close look at the harm parental loyalty conflicts create for the children of divorce and offer some tips for reducing the negative effects your child may experience.

Feeling Pressure to Choose a Side

One of the most difficult things for a child of divorce is feeling like he or she has to choose between parents. This can happen in a number of ways. Two of the most common are when one parent tries to undermine the other or when parents fight about custody arrangements in front of the child. Another example is when one parent begins to talk to the child about the issues leading to the divorce or separation and expects or encourages the child to join the “campaign of blame” against the other parent. It can also happen when one parent starts dating someone new and the child feels like he or she isn’t allowed to “like” the new person in his parent’s life. Whatever the reason, this pressure can be extremely stressful for a child and can lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, and even depression. These feelings can often manifest themselves in physical ailments or bad or inappropriate behaviors, making the situation worse for all involved.

When the parent-child communications about the divorce leave the child feeling as if he or she can never please both parents at once, a parental loyalty conflict will certainly exist. It’s critical at the outset of a divorce or any case where child custody is an issue that both parents talk to the child to make sure he understands that he will never be asked to choose sides. The child should rarely be told anything other than his parents are working together to make decisions that are best for him and his future. If the child must know more details than that, it’s time to engage a professional to help deliver the information in a way that is age-appropriate and emotionally appropriate for the child. If your case has been assigned a Guardian ad Litem, this might be a conversation they have with the child. Engaging a trusted child therapist who has experience working with divorcing or litigating families is another great option.

Creates Confusion About Parenting Abilities

When a child is exposed to parental loyalty conflicts, it can create confusion about the parenting abilities of each parent in the child’s mind. The child may think that if his parents can’t get along, how could they possibly care for him properly? This type of thinking often leads to insecurity and anxiety in children, as well as a feeling that they are somehow responsible for their parents’ divorce. In some cases, this confusion about parenting abilities can even lead to behavioral problems in children, such as acting out or becoming withdrawn.

It’s important for parents to remember that their child is watching and listening to everything they say and do, even when they think the child isn’t paying attention. Therefore, it’s crucial that parents avoid saying negative things about each other in front of the child or talking to the child about the issues leading to the divorce. Instead, parents should focus on speaking positively about each other and emphasizing that both parents love the child very much. If you find yourself struggling to speak positively about your co-parent, it may be helpful to write down a few positive things about him or her before you see or speak to your child. This will help you keep your thoughts and words focused on the good rather than dwelling on the negative.

If you are concerned that your child is having difficulty adjusting to the divorce or separation, it’s important to seek professional help. A child or family therapist who specializes in working with families going through a divorce, or other family litigation situations, can help your child work through these issues and develop healthy coping skills.

Develops Unhealthy Future Relationships

When children of divorce are exposed to parental loyalty conflicts, it can often lead to unhealthy future relationships. In some cases, the child may think that if his parents couldn’t stay together, then why should he bother getting married or having a family of his own? This type of thinking can often lead to commitment issues later on in life. Additionally, the child may think that all marriages or relationships end in conflict and this could prevent him from ever getting close to anyone else.

When a child has been watching his parents disregard and disrespect each other, or when his parents encourage the child to disrespect or lie to the other parent for years, the child often learns the only way to survive relationships with other people is to lie or manipulate the truth. The child never learns how to have a healthy, adult relationship because he was never exposed to one.

Final Thoughts

Parental loyalty conflicts during and after divorce can cause serious harm to children. If you are currently going through a divorce or have already divorced, it’s important to be aware of the impact your daily actions and words with or about your ex-spouse could have on your child. It’s also critical to seek out professional help if you think your child is struggling to cope with the situation. Addressing these issues sooner rather than later may better help your child avoid negative future outcomes.

One book that I highly recommend for any parent going through this situation is Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex by Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R. Fine, LCSW

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If you’re going through a divorce or lived through your parents’ divorce, what are some ways you suggest avoiding parental loyalty conflicts? Let us know on social media!