Author: Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago
Last updated: August 2006
The following information is intended to help you deal with the emotional needs your child may have during your divorce. During a divorce, children often tend to manipulate one or both parents. This information lists common things children will exaggerate about and the reasons why they exaggerate. Also, advice is given on how to deal with a child who exaggerates.
What Children Will Exaggerate About
- What they ate while with the other parent.
- What they did (or did not do) at the other parent's house (for example, bedtime, chores, privileges).
- How and by whom they were disciplined during their visit with the other parent.
- What others said to them about their mom, dad and brothers/sisters.
- How they were treated by their stepmom/dad, how they were treated by the other parent's girlfriend/boyfriend, and how they were treated by their stepbrother/sister.
Why Children Will Exaggerate and How to Deal With Them
- Children realize they gain power over their parents by exaggerating because some parents will act on everything the children say. This gives children a tremendous amount of power. Do not over react. If you have some genuine concerns, check out what is happening with the other parent prior to drawing conclusions or making decisions. Although you may be angry with your ex-spouse, it is important that you not blindly accept the child's side of the story.
- Children will exaggerate to keep themselves out of trouble. To deal with this, take the focus off the child's behavior. For example, you can say "son, your mom has been saying that you are skipping school. You have said this isn’t happening. I want you to know that I have set up a meeting at school so that I will know what’s going on."
- Children will exaggerate in an attempt to keep the parents connected or to get the parents back together. Children may also say things that they know will cause the parents to fight. Many times children do this to keep both parents in their lives.
- Children may tell a parent what they think that parent wants to hear about the other parent. Children often do this to get love or attention or to please their parents.
- Children will exaggerate to get what they want or to get one parent to "out do" the other parent. The children may attempt to make a parent feel guilty for not doing, buying, or giving as much as the parent.
- If the nonresidential parent has not seen the children for awhile, the children may feel abandoned and/or rejected which results in anger.
- If either parent has a girlfriend or boyfriend, children may see this person as a replacement of the other parent and feel resentful. Children may not want to share their time with that parent.
- The residential parent may plan something exciting when the children are with the other parent. The message to the child is, "see what you will miss by going with your mom/dad today.”
- The children may fear they will not be loved when they return home, especially if they say they had a good time.
- The nonresidential parent may be involving the children in the issues of the divorce; or the nonresidential parent may make the children feel sorry for her/him or saying critical things about the other parent.
- The residential parent may be saying negative or bad things about the other parent, either directly or indirectly (through friends, relatives). This may cause the children to be afraid of the non-residential parent or feel insecure with her/him.
- Teenagers usually do not want to spend long periods of time with either parent. They may resent not spending time with their peers.
- If parents argue and fight in front of the children, the children may feel they have to take sides. Children generally take the side of the parent they see as having the most power, and that is usually the parent with whom they live. To keep peace in the household, children may not go for visitation with the nonresidential parent.
- Younger children may be very attached to the residential parent and be afraid of separation. They may also be afraid, they will not be returned home.
Suggested Parental Responses to Help Your Child Deal With the Divorce
You can say, “you may have heard your mom/dad say angry and hurtful things about me, however, these are adult matters and I do not want you to be in the middle; therefore, you and I are not going to discuss it. It is important that you and I enjoy being together.”
For the stubborn child, be as firm as you normally would be if she/he does not want to pick up toys, go to the store, or go to school, etc.
For the older child, or teenagers, you can say, “your mom/dad and I each see things in a different way, just as you and your friends sometimes do. I can tell you how I see the situation, but you must know that there is another point of view. Do not make judgments when you’ve only heard half the story."
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