Bad-mouthing and how it impacts children
Bad-mouthing the other parent in front of their children can lead to anxiety, low self-esteem and negative self-talk in the children.
Why you shouldn’t bad-mouth your ex
Children are made up of genes from both their Mum and Dad so when one of their parents is criticised, blamed or ridiculed, a child will interpret those accusations at some level as also being accusations about them.
Most children love both of their parents and so it is can be painful and confusing to them when one of them is bad-mouthed. During (and after) separation, emotions are running high and it is normal and natural to feel anger and hurt towards your ex. But don’t bad-mouth them in front of your children or you’re likely to impact your child’s self-esteem and increase their anxiety levels.
Christina McGhee, my ‘go to’ expert on children and divorce, explains: “Children usually interpret the bad things they hear about one of their parents as something bad or negative about themselves.”
Did anyone ever compliment you by referring to one of your parents? For example: “You have your father’s kind eyes” or, “you have your mother’s beautiful hair”.
Can you remember how it felt?
As small children, we bask in compliments that liken us to our parents. Insults have a big impact too – but a negative one. It may feel as though bad-mouthing doesn’t matter, but it is one of the key factors in how well children will cope with their parents separating.
How to avoid bad-mouthing your ex
After a separation, it is normal for emotions to be running high and to feel like you would like to badmouth your ex. Don’t! Especially not in front of your children.
You have every right to feel upset and perhaps angry, but it is dangerous to express those feelings in front of the children. Find another way of releasing the emotions – talk to a friend, go for a run or a walk, listen to some music or find a therapist. The feelings may be valid, but using them to hurt your children is not. Don’t let your children hear, see or experience your anger or blame.
For more ideas on how to manage your emotions, take a look at our blog 'How to stay cool and manage your emotions after divorce or separation.'
What if your ex, or their family or friends, is bad-mouthing you?
- Don’t get hooked into an argument and counter-attack, or respond directly to their accusations. It is OK to say that you don’t agree with their comments.
- If necessary, take time out and work out your own strategies for dealing with the unpleasant behaviour.
- Stay calm and set boundaries. Think of a toddler having a tantrum. As an adult, you wouldn’t have a tantrum, You would stay calm and set boundaries. It is the same with an ex bad-mouthing you. If you bad-mouth back, then you are behaving as badly as them. Stay calm and set boundaries.
- Try to detach yourself from your ex’s comments. What your ex thinks about you has nothing to do with your worth. What they say is a reflection of them and not you. Choose not to take it personally.
- Try to explain why it is important not to bad-mouth each other in front of the children.
- Focus on your children and their feelings, rather than what was said. Tell them that you are sorry that they heard your ex badmouth you. Acknowledge how they might be feeling about what they heard and focus on those feelings. You may need to clarify the facts for them but don’t do it in a counter attack and only do it if necessary. Help your children to process their own feelings about what was said and to separate their own feelings from those of the other parent. Don’t gloss over or ignore what was said, but don’t react to it either.
- Set a good example yourself and do not bad mouth your ex or his family.
For more information:
In Christina McGhee’s book ‘Parenting Apart’, there is a chapter on bad-mouthing that could be helpful to read if it is something with which you are struggling.
Here is a link to a blog about how to cope if your ex is badmouthing you:
Mediation can be a helpful way to have discussion around bad-mouthing in a way that ‘Keeps it about the Kids’. If you think mediation might be helpful to you, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 07706 513496.