After separation/divorce, a parent can get withheld from custody, sometimes they lose custody, or sometimes they have all or partial custody... yet the child behaves in a negative manner, or 'acts out.' For those who have lost custody, they might call this lucky. And yet, this is a huge challenge for many parents: having to exercise parenting time with a child who is rejecting them and acting out because of it.
Often we hear that the child is either causing complete chaos in the home, or the opposite - a complete isolation, to the extent sometimes they refuse to eat on the parenting time. Both cases are extreme causes for concern. Here's what to do about it:
1. Continue to exercise your parenting time
First and foremost, this one should be obvious but many parents choose to simply not take their kids on their time when they act out. Or, they have them get picked up by the other parent. Do not do this. Especially if an allegation is that you aren't an involved parent. It also immediately conveys you diminish your own role as parent and don't know what to do with your child. This tells both the other parent and your child that you are at a loss. Invest in the skills you need to learn how to effectively handle, approach, and communicate with a child like this. Remember, many parents who have lost custody and a relationship altogether would trade places with you in a heartbeat.
2. Take back your role
We often encourage parents to make it easy for the child to fold back in, keep communication light, etc - this is true to an extent for parents with alienated children on their time. Parents who have their children may often take this tip as completely limiting rules, boundaries, etc and will walk on eggshells with their child. The biggest difference is that you have custodial rights over your minor child. If they are isolating themselves, what are you doing to contribute to the isolation? Meaning, are you allowing it? Distancing yourself from them? Afraid of them, maybe? Make it easy (of course) but that doesn't mean you can't enforce rules. Instead of asking if they want to eat dinner at the table, let them know dinner is ready at 5p; they have to eat or they will become malnourished so you made your take on one of their favorites. If they are behaving outlandishly, you are going to need to step up your parenting skills, stand your ground, and do not let your child know you are at a loss with what to do. Start to become the parent again, so they know you mean business, yet don't get triggered or outraged. Do so in a way in which it's easy for them to respond to, don't become dictator. Always ask yourself "will this keep them at bay" or "will this exacerbate their behavior?" and answer to the best of your ability. Work with a coach to help guide you along the way.
3. Tighten up your strategy
Parents with rejecting kids on their parenting time often are still in the midst of a custody battle. The other parent is likely waiting for anything they can use to take the kid back, or tell the Court something. Make sure everything is documented that needs to be, and always be prepared, with a competent team on your side. Don't contribute to the back and forth, he-said/she-said - rather focus on the facts and the concern for the other parents' interference/behaviors, and resulting changes in your child.
4. Add tools to your toolbox
This is a situation you should not take lightly. Please seek more ongoing support so you aren't fumbling throughout the process. No parent is perfect, we all make mistakes. Yet don't let this be something you put on the back burner to take control over. Just because you may find the situation to not be your fault, doesn't mean you shouldn't be learning how to handle it. The biggest and most unfortunate mistake I see parents make is saying they don't need support or to invest in the tools because they aren't the parent with the problem. While it may be frustrating, remember that if you do not take charge of your situation and your child's life, your co-parent certainly isn't, either. If your child is behaving in a very violent, or otherwise concerning manner, not only do you need to learn how to nip it in the bud, identify the root cause, and learn the best parenting tactics, the child may need imminent professional help as well in the meantime.
If you are struggling with a child acting out or isolating on your time, stand your ground. Do not fret, be confident in your role as their parent. Place yourself in their shoes. Allow you and your child the grace you need to move forward. Chat with a member of our team today if you would like more hands-on guidance and concrete tools to help you recover your beloved child.