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When kids play parents against each other, what should they do?

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A confrontation between a mom and her daughter.

Kids play parents against each other all the time. Learn how to handle it with these do's and don'ts.

© Jamie Grill / Getty Images
Question: When kids play parents against each other, what should they do?
I'm a newly single mom raising two girls, ages 9 and 13. My older daughter has begun to play mind games with my ex and I, trying to play us parents against each another. For example, when she wants something and I say no, she immediately goes and asks her dad, who often says yes. As divorcing parents, this issue is new to us. How are we supposed to handle this type of behavior?
Answer:

This is a common issue for divorcing parents, and it's one that must deal with swiftly and effectively. Here are some do's and don'ts for coping with kids who play parents against each other, use mind games, or try to drive a wedge between you:

Do...

  • Do contact your ex. Let him know what is going on and come up with a plan for handling it together.

  • Do communicate with your children together. Hold a family meeting and let your kids know that you're not going to fall for these mind games. Set some house rules and let your children know what consequences they can expect when your rules are ignored.

  • Do get into the habit of being proactive. When one of your kids asks for something and you say "no," make a point of communicating this information to your ex so that he does not fall into the trap if your son attempts to send the same request his way.

Don't...

  • Don't ignore it. Pretending that trying to pit you against each other isn't a problem will only make the issue worse.

  • Don't take it personally. Your kids are very likely responding to the tension that they sense between you and your ex.

  • Don't be defensive. Responding defensively will only make the situation worse and may even reinforce the idea to your children that pitting the two of you against each other is an effective way to relieve the tension they feel about their own actions and responsibilities.

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