Unfortunately, children are exposed to bad-mouthing which is not healthy or appropriate for them. For some, it happens on occasion and in most cases provoked and for others, it is a daily occurrence and part of a high conflict pattern.
How do you know your co-parent is bad-mouthing you and how can you take action when it happens?
There are a number of indicators there is a smear campaign underway;
- The obvious is your ex speaks negatively toward you in front of you.
- Your child sounds advanced for their age. This might suggest they’re mimicking the words and ideas of the other parent.
- They clearly favor the other parent, to the point where they want to move in with them.
- They act out and defy you. You sense you’ve been cast as the family villain.
- They blurt it out, “Mommy says you don’t love me anymore!”
In constant doses, this toxic behavior works to alienate you from your kid(s) and the drive to retaliate will no doubt be high. In all of these cases your plan of action needs to be clear;
- Address the slander or lie and correct it. If it is not addressed the assumption is there may be truth in it no matter how outlandish the claim.
- Address it honestly and with reassurance without casting your co-parent in a bad light. This is an important one. Be the bigger person. It may not be necessary to share the details with your child but letting them know moms and dads make mistakes too and let them know you’ll have an adult conversation to set things straight.
- Exercise empathy with your child, although you may be feeling the sting of their bad-mouthing your child needs your love, attention, and reassurance.
- Always encourage your child to talk about their feelings. If you respond in an open, loving and healthy way to these stressful moments, you can strengthen your relationship with your child thus knocking down any toxic barriers and teach them important interpersonal skills in the process.
- Talk with your co-parent. This is not an invitation for a retaliatory ‘smack-down’, this is an opportunity to let them know their bad-mouthing is having a negative effect on the kid(s) and leave yourself open to have a conversation with them. We realize this may be an uphill battle if you’re in a high-conflict and/or toxic situation but it is important to simply call it out with a focus on the damaging effects on the child.
In some cases your co-parent may be so tangled up in their emotions they may not realize your kids are suffering from the collateral damage of their bad-mouthing.
Another point worth mentioning, kids as we know, can stir up trouble. Whether they are craving attention, see the opportunity to control and/or manipulate or perhaps reasons entirely non-malicious (*age has a great deal to do with intent) children sometimes distort, misremember, or fabricate. If your daughter eagerly reports that your usually reasonable ex “called you mean and ugly,” take a breath and consider the source.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your ex throws vicious, exaggerated, or false allegations, unfairly paints you as incompetent, apathetic or indifferent, or tries to undermine your child’s relationship with you, they’re committing emotional child abuse. Take note. Track the details of these interactions and seek professional help.