Keep kids out of conflict during separation

By Staff

The higher conflict the divorce, the more likely it is that children will be impacted negatively through mixed messaging, questions of loyalty and trust issues, says St. Catharines family lawyer and mediator Sharon Silbert.

“Parents often focus on the importance of scheduling and child custody arrangements and don’t often think enough about their own interpersonal relationships and how they can affect the children,” Silbert tells She says clients often ask her how to best handle communication with children during separation.

“It’s not uncommon for parents to talk about behavioural issues experienced by their children, like acting out or even regressing in terms of developmental milestones,” says Silbert, who focuses on out-of-court dispute resolution in her practice. “Though I‘m not a child development expert, I do my best to help parents reduce the amount of conflict they experience and that their kids will be exposed to, because research has shown that exposure to conflict is one of the things that can have the greatest negative impact on children of divorce.”

Parents sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that developing a bond with their child and facilitating the involvement of the other parent are mutually exclusive concepts, says Silbert.

“It’s easy for parents to fight over whether it is more important for the child to spend more time in one parent’s care in order to develop a secure attachment, or to make sure the child is spending lots of time with both parents,” says Silbert. “The optimal goal is a co-parenting arrangement that supports relationships with each parent and a recognition by each parent of the other parent’s importance to the child. What kind of a parenting schedule is required in order to achieve that goal is different in every case depending on the individuals involved.”

Acknowledging the importance of the co-parent can be extraordinarily difficult, says Silbert, especially in the midst of a high-conflict divorce.

“Unfortunately, in situations where the conflicts between parents are allowed to get out of hand, kids can end up getting conflicted messaging,” she says. “That’s when you get into the loyalty binds and alienation, and that stuff can be really devastating.”

Managing the turmoil and ensuring children see their parents as parents — not enemies — is crucial, says Silbert.

“One thing that I always encourage people to remember, which is easy to forget sometimes, is the fact that decisions that are made about parenting relationships at one point in a child’s life don’t necessarily have to stay the same way forever,” she says.

“Graduated parenting plans can be an effective way of really tailoring the co-parenting arrangement to the child’s needs as they grow and develop, and working co-operatively tends to be the most effective way of making sure that actually happens.”