Strategies for Managing High Conflict Parenting Situations
When parents separate it is fairly common for the parties to experience some level of conflict during the transition period. Conflict can range from one parent belittling the other parent’s values to verbal attacks or in some rare cases even threats of violence.
Child psychologists have observed that the intensity level of parental conflict is a significant factor in children’s adjustment after separation or divorce. Parents who co-operate after they separate increase the likelihood that their children will have close relationships with both parents and will adjust successfully after separation. However if the children witness intense parental conflict over an extended time frame, there is a real risk of significant damage to children.
Whatever ill feelings separated spouses may have for one another, parents universally love and care for their children and do not want to cause them harm. Unfortunately some separated parents find themselves in a cycle of conflict that is difficult for them to break even once they recognize it is damaging to their children. Here are some strategies I suggest to my clients in high conflict parenting situations to consider since they may minimize the amount of conflict the children observe between their parents:
- Minimal or no direct contact between parents, which allows both parents some space to “disengage” from the ongoing cycle of conflict
- a highly detailed parenting schedule which leaves little room for argument; the schedule should cover who drives the children to the drop off location and at what time, as well as what should happen in case of an emergency.
- All communication between parents is made through a “communication book” which travels with the children. The communication book includes only business – like notes regarding health, education, welfare of the children.
- Use a neutral place for exchange of children like a school, daycare, or even a coffee shop. If it is necessary to drop the children at the other parents home, the children should be dropped off curbside while the parent waits in the car.
- Establish accepted routines for bedtime and screen time at both parents’ homes.
- Any changes to the parenting schedule will only be made by consent and in writing.
- Establish daily skype/phone contact time for the children to call the other parent; ensure the child has privacy to conduct the call.
In addition to these strategies, parents should consider enroll in a parenting education course. The well-respected course called Parenting after Separation is available for free through the local court registry or accessible online using the following link: Parenting After Separation.