Whether you are a single parent who has recently divorced or you have entered into a new co-parenting relationship with a blended family dynamic, chances are you face the obligation of interacting with your ex-partner to navigate the complicated world of shared custody and visitation schedules. In a perfect world, this situation – that constantly requires compromise and communication – would be a smooth and effortless process. Unfortunately, that is usually not the case. Many parents find it stressful and difficult to co-parent with an ex-partner in a way that is constructive, cordial, and considerate of the children involved. When we act on the urge to badmouth or trash talk an ex, there are serious negative consequences for children exposed to such language. The damage to a child’s self-esteem can have long lasting effects on the adolescent-parent attachment, impacting their susceptibility to mental health problems and engagement in risky behaviors.
HOW CHILDREN ARE IMPACTED
We all know children are like sponges; they absorb words and statements from their environment and repeat them like walking parrots. At times this can be adorable or even embarrassing (my child said what at school?!). What children say out loud gives us a clue about how they are also developing their internal dialogue – how they speak to themselves and form their sense of self. As young children grow and learn about the world around them, they are identifying with objects and people in order to form concrete concepts of their identity (short or tall, boy or girl, etc.). When children’s thinking becomes more complex, they incorporate memories and interpersonal connections as they assign meaning to concepts in their internal world, or inner self. The ever-evolving intricate web of a child’s inner self is influenced by external factors, including messages they receive from other people such as caregivers, parents, teachers, and peers.