Effects on the children

High Conflict Coparenting

High conflict coparenting happens when the relationship ends, and war begins. Children are  frequently used as pawns in this emotionally bloody demolition. Children are forgotten in the parental fight and can suffer secondary trauma. This is the trauma experienced by children as bystanders where the fight becomes more important than the best interests of the child. Children find different ways to cope in a system with two parents who despise each other.

Children can be faced with issues that they lack the ability to deal with. They want to please each parent but find it impossible to do so all the time. They settle for short-term convenience; they learn to tell the adults what they think their parents want to hear. Their statements may differ entirely from what the child believes, but the child goes out of her way to avoid extended conflict.


In telling parents what they think the adults want to hear, the children develop the ability to lie quickly and convincingly. Without good parental role models, these children tend to have impaired relationships with peers, and to have little idea of what it means to have real friendships. Their expectations of friends can become quite distorted, and they don’t understand that relationships are based on kindness, cooperation and sharing. While longing for the safety of a close connection, they don’t really believe they are lovable, and lack the skills of how to obtain and maintain friendships.

You will see some of these children at break time playing all alone because they lack the outreach skills and confidence that their peers will like them. Others are so desperate to feel accepted that they will say or do anything to be part of the popular group. Some children from high conflict co-parents want to bring attention to how bad they feel but, like most children, lack the skills and the ability to truly stand up for themselves. They may bring attention to their situation by getting poor marks, using drugs, becoming defiant, withdrawing from the world, acting out in class and stop doing activities that normally bring them pleasure.

Then there are the children that strive for perfection to be loved and approved by their parents. They tend to be very hard on themselves and are rarely compassionate towards themselves or others.

These children often present as being mature, but in truth they are often emotionally and socially immature. They are frequently more needy; they have spent most of their lives learning how to please others without really learning how to look after their own needs. This leads adults to misread the child; thinking they are doing fine when, really, they are hurting inside.

Some children align themselves with one parent. These children get rewards from the parent they are aligning with. They feel that they must take a stand for the parent they are close with and keep the other parent out of the picture.

What high conflict co-parents can do to help their children

• Instead of doing the usual blaming the other parent for what is going wrong with your children, ask yourself what you are doing to contribute to the difficulties your child is experiencing.

• Are you giving your child the message that you are all good and the other parent is bad? Are you giving your child the subtle message that if she doesn’t favour you over your ex, that she is in trouble with you? Do you understand that children naturally try to get what they want and if they can manipulate two warring parents into getting their wishes fulfilled, they will do so? This is not a character flaw on their part.

• Stop fighting! Adults whose fight is more important than the best interests of their child cannot possibly co-parent. Trust is essential in successful co-parenting.

• Stop fighting about when children can communicate with the other parent. Let this be as open as possible.

• Does your child tell you that you don’t listen to him? His feelings about this will become buried deep inside only to eventually emerge in a tirade at you or herself. If you don’t heed his words, your relationship may be impaired for a long period of time.

• Talk with him calmly, say that your relationship is important to you, you want to maintain and repair it. Ask her to describe her feelings for you and tell her that you will not be angry at her honesty.

• If you can afford to do so, co-parenting counselling as well as individual therapy for your children may be helpful.

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