Criticizing the other parent in front of a child is one of the most common mistakes. A child does not know whether to agree, disagree, or remain silent. Once again the child is being put in a vulnerable no-win situation.
Criticism comes in many different forms and most parents who criticize the other parent in front of their child often do it without realizing it.
For example, a father says to his son, "I am not buying you new shoes this time. Ask your mother to, because I pay her money each month for your child support." Or a mother says to her daughter, "No, we are not going to that restaurant. That is where your dad and I used to go and I always hated it."
Both of these examples carry a negative tone towards the other parent.
In the first example, the father is insinuating that the mother does not financially support the child as well as she should with the amount of monthly child support she receives. The second example is a "jab" at the father, exaggerating that he used to make her do things that she did not want to do. Even if the statements are true, it does not mean they must be shared with the child.
PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) is a syndrome in which a parent knowingly or unknowingly attempts to alienate the other parent from the child(ren) by means of physical and verbal actions or reactions.
Preventing or stopping parental alienation can be very difficult, but fighting PAS with PAS is worse. This type of reaction will only fuel the fire, promoting the other parent to increase the criticism until it becomes out of control. Once again, parents would try to prevent PAS by having a frank conversation with each other with the child not present. An honest exchange makes the problem surface in a level-headed, mature manner. Each parent lets the other know he or she is aware of the criticism and is not happy with it. Legal actions can eventually be taken, but proving PAS in court can be an uphill battle, especially without hiring experts to testify on your behalf.
Strategies and Tactics to Combat PAS:
- If you are going to express thoughts about the other parent, make sure they are all positive. If your child hears positive remarks from you (and the other parent), he or she will become more comfortable with the divorce and/or separation. Children have a tendency to fear that one parent will feel distanced, which is why positive remarks by each parent will help reinforce that both parents are and will always be a part of the child's life.
- Let the child initiate the conversation about the other parent. This tip is for those parents who are unable to get the other parent off his or her mind.
- When your child mentions the other parent, be sure to listen, rather than respond abruptly. This will avoid any irrational responses due to your frustrations. The fact that you are actually listening, rather than quickly responding, will show your child that you actually care about what he or she has to say. During the divorce and/or separation process parents can be so focused on the legal and failing marriage issues that their child becomes somewhat of an afterthought. Listening will help prevent this from happening.
- Avoid unnecessary negative expressions, like rolling the eyes, shrugging, sighing. Physical expressions are just as harmful as verbal ones.
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