Preventing High Conflict from Impacting Children During a Divorce

Preventing High Conflict from Impacting Children During a Divorce

During a divorce, many couples face an emotional roller coaster. While we may start convinced that we’ll be united in making the best choices for our children, emotions and conflict can get the best of all of us. We can lose sight of making the best decisions for our children in the face of high emotions and our feelings and wants. The good news is that there is a solution.

This week’s Divorce Dialogues guest, Risa Garon, is a clinical social worker with a solution for parents. She is the co-founder and executive director of the National Family Resiliency Center. At the Center, she and her staff created a child-focused decision-making process to help parents and professionals remain focused on making decisions in their children’s best interests.

Listen to Divorce Dialogues episode featuring Risa Garon, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Anchor.

Child-focused decision making has four components, with Risa focusing on educating parents and professionals about:

  • Child development,
  • The possible impacts of separation and divorce on children,
  • Parenting responsibilities, and
  • Addressing high conflict.


In our last article, we discussed the first two aspects of Risa’s child-focused model, including child development and the possible impacts of separation and divorce. Today, we’ll focus on Risa’s advice concerning parenting responsibilities and how to address high conflict between co-parents.

Parenting Responsibilities

Risa Garon pointed out that it’s important to remember that your child isn’t an object to be won. Divorce isn’t a game of who gets the best time or the most visitation. The object should be to meet your child’s needs and what you can do to meet those needs, which is where parental responsibilities come into play. If you can identify and define your child’s needs, you can determine what each parent can do to “lovingly and responsibly” parent your children. By focusing on your child’s needs, and how you can each objectively meet them, you can also take some of the emotion out of a stressful situation.

High Conflict Between Parents

Parents who have a high level of conflict between them, or parents who are simply high-conflict people, can negatively impact the emotional well-being of their children. Some guidelines for keeping conflict low include:

  • Don’t take things personally: It can be difficult to hear criticism and not take it personally, but a misperception of intent can cause you to have an emotional reaction. For example, if your co-parent tells you the kids spend too much time on screens, instead of taking the comment at face value, “Maybe we could work on ways to cut down on their screen time,” you may hear, “You’re a bad parent,” and react defensively.
  • Don’t take it personally, even if it sounds personal: If your co-parent subjects you to a rant about how you let the kids spend too much time on screens and you’re turning them into zombies, that may sound objectively like a personal criticism. But your ex’s anger, while intentionally mean, isn’t your responsibility. You don’t have to take that burden on yourself. Don’t take it personally. Instead, react calmly and, responding to the underlying issue, but not the vitriol in the message.

Holiday Parenting Time

The holidays can be a time of high conflict for many parents during a separation or after a divorce. But planning and communication with your kids and your co-parent can help everyone manage their feelings and expectations for the holiday and transitions. Risa offers some great suggestions for parents and kids alike:

  • Allow children to grieve: Let them have emotions about not spending the holidays the way you used to.
  • Incorporate old traditions with new ones: If trying to have all the same holiday traditions is too hard, come up with some new ones for your new situation.
  • Plan the holidays together: Let your kids have some say about what the holiday will look like.
  • Consider celebrating jointly if possible: If it’s possible without conflict, you and your co-parent can spend a defined period together as you once were. For example, many couples will spend an hour together at one home opening presents.
  • Be respectful about new significant others: You have the right to move on but be mindful about whether your children are ready for that.
  • Set gift guidelines: Don’t let gift-giving become a competition. Talk to your ex about monetary limits and help your kids pick out a present for your co-parent.

One of the most challenging things for parents and children during divorce is that they cannot spend time together for every holiday. So, it’s a good idea to develop some new traditions for yourself. Plan what you’ll do when you’re not with the kids, whether it’s going for a run, celebrating with friends, binge-watching movies on Netflix with Chinese food on the couch, or volunteering at a shelter.

We are here to help!

If you’re thinking about protecting your children during divorce, and you’d prefer to take a gentle approach, we can help. Reach out to Miller Law Group for more information, or call us at (914) 256-8997.

Contact Us

Breaking the News - Guide to Asking for a Divorce