John A. Moran, Ph.D., Tyler Sullivan & Matthew Sullivan, Ph.D. have written a short and exceptionally easy to understand and implement guidebook for dealing with children who reject a parent.
We highly recommend Overcoming the Co-Parenting Trap: Essential Parenting Skills When a Child Resists a Parent (2015) Overcoming Barriers Inc., to our clients when their children are resisting relationship and visitation.
Some of the excellent parenting tips offered in this resource include the following (It should be noted that all of these tips assume the child is not at real risk of harm to their health and safety in the resisted parent’s care):
For the rejected parent:
Keep in mind that when a child is rejecting a parent, expressing love and affection can be tricky for the rejected parent. Resist the urge to reject the child in turn. The authors stress the importance of communicating that no matter what, you love the child, you are committed, and will always be there for them.
- Don’t give up. Even if your child refuses your calls, cards, or gifts they are keeping track.
- Express love to your child without making the child feel pressured to say anything in response.
- Don’t insist your child hug or kiss you or your family members.
- Show up at extracurricular, school and sporting events (unless prohibited by court order).
- Ask the child first if it is a good time to talk about a touchy subject before launching in.
- Plan a neutral, safe and positive activity with your child. The authors give the example of an art activity in a public arts and crafts studio.
- Practice diffusing conflict. You can do this by rehearsing your calm and thoughtful responses to defiant, provocative and disrespectful outbursts from the child.
- Most of all, be patient.
For the favored parent:
Keep in mind that when a child loses relationship with another parent, not only do they lose 50% of their genetic and cultural identity but they may also suffer long-term psychological consequences. The authors cite research showing that children caught in prolonged parenting disputes can develop “internalizing disorders” such as social withdrawal, stress-related physical health complaints, depression or anxiety; or “externalizing disorders” such as aggressive or antisocial behaviors and hyperactive symptoms.
- Help the child past their rejection of the other parent by assuring them that both parents love them, and things will get better with time.
- Don’t send a child to therapy alone, this makes the child feel responsible for repairing a problem that is not of their making but is rooted in co-parenting conflict (alternative Family Systems Therapy).
- Contact with the rejected parent should not be negotiable.
- Help the child notice the positive efforts made by the resisted parent.
- Limit calls and texts with the child when they are in the resisted parent’s care.
- Organize the child’s possessions in advance to ensure they are ready for the visitation exchange on time.
- Provide helpful ideas to the other parent about activities the child might enjoy, such as favorite games, TV shows and movies the child has been enjoying in your home.
- Let the child know that you too bear some responsibility for the problems they may be having with the other parent.