by Philip M. Stahl, Ph.D.
Family Resolution Center

One of the first things you can do to let go of your anger is to understand the impact of the anger on your children. When the fighting continues after the divorce, children become disillusioned. At the very least, children hope their parents fighting will go away so that they can get some peace in their life. Many times I have heard children say that they wouldn't mind the divorce so much if their parents would just learn to get along better. All children really want is for their parents to act grown up, leave them in peace, and let them love the other parent. However, when parents continue in conflict, their children remain wounded psychologically.

These wounds can include feelings of disillusionment, fear, insecurity, vulnerability, and hopelessness. Children become afraid to love both of their parents or to express their love for one parent in front of the other parent. Children frequently feel that they have failed or done something wrong when the conflicts occur, feeling even more insecure when they can't prevent the arguments.

At its worst, children experiencing such conflict have to take sides because they can't manage the internal tension and anxiety they feel. For these children, there is a risk of serious psychological regression where they will see one parent as mostly bad and the other parent as mostly good. This "splitting", as it is called, is very difficult for children because it reinforces a style in which they view the world in a "black and white" way rather than a more balanced view of good and bad in most people. This is the most destructive symptom which children might experience with their parents conflict.

While it is common for each of parents to blame each other when these symptoms erupt, it is important for parents to recognize that each of them are likely to play a role in these difficulties. Parents need to recognize that their obvious and not-so-obvious behaviors are likely to be pressuring the children and causing them to feel this way. The very act of blaming the other parent is one of the things that makes this worse. It is critical that parents learn to look inward and improve their communication with their children, reduce their own role in the conflict, and ease their childs transition between homes so that they can be free of the tension which this conflict causes.

It is also critical for parents to stop and think before saying things that might be damaging to their children. It is important to avoid loud arguments in front of your children and avoid the put-downs, derogatory statements, or other comments which cause problems for our children. Avoid using the divorce as an excuse for your children's behavior problems. Be careful and recognize that your words can be damaging to your children, especially when there are feeling caught in the middle of your conflict.

An important ingredient in understanding your childs feelings is to develop empathy for your child and his/her feelings and experiences. Empathy is a process in which we put ourselves in another persons place and try to understand his/her feelings. The ability to have empathy for your child is an important task of parenting, as it enables you to understand your childs experiences and feelings and act accordingly.

It is equally important to put your childs needs first before your own. If your young child is experiencing sleep trouble at your house, it will be important to understand the reasons for this. If it is because he/she is having trouble adjusting to overnights, you will need to postpone your desire for overnights until your child is feeling more secure. If your arguments with the other parent causes your child to experience tension at his/her Little League games, you may need to take turns going to the games.

By understanding your childs feelings and having empathy for what your child is experiencing, and by avoiding putting your child in the middle and using damaging words about your childs other parent, you can reduce your childs pain and manage your anger in a healthier way.


Dr. Phil Stahl, Ph.D., a Licensed Psychologist in Northern California, provides custody evaluations and consultation in high-conflict divorces. He is the author of several books and articles on divorce, including Parenting After Divorce

For a more complete bio of Dr. Stahl click here.


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