How to Help Polarized Children

The child in a high-conflict divorce is generally the most injured party.  The following suggestions protect the child as much as possible, especially when alienation between one parent and the child is occurring.

1. Abuse Allegations

Allegations of abuse or often arise to counter allegations of alienation. Statistics about the frequency of false allegations in these matters are irrelevant. Each allegation must be carefully evaluated so as to assure the child’s safety despite notions that said allegations are false.

2. “Taking a Break” is Not a Strategy

Arguments that the child “just needs a break” or will resume contact with the rejected parent “after she’s cooled off” are generally unsuccessful. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder and it is not proper to use in a parent/child relationship. It may be necessary and appropriate for contact to be briefer or supervised or mediated by a family systems therapist, but “taking a break” will generally make resuming contact that much more difficult.

3. The Child’s Voice

We must listen carefully to children without allowing them to choose between parents. Children who feel like their voices have been heard are more likely to comply with the court’s orders – even when those orders are contrary to their wishes. This is consistent with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, and those jurisdictions that allow or require that the “mature minor” be heard with regard to his or her future care.

4. The Rejected Parent

The tragic reality is that some relationships cannot be repaired as quickly as desired. Sometimes the rejected parent can do nothing but step back and let the child grow, hoping that he/she will find her way back. This parent may need help to grieve the loss and to vent the rage. Individual psychotherapeutic support can be helpful so as to assure that the rejected parent remains present and available to the child.

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