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Communication Skills for parents in conflict by David McDonald

"So who is your mother seeing this week? " "Tell your father that he is five days late in paying the child support."

"You know of it wasn’t for your mother, we would all still be together"

"If you want your father to come to your game, you can tell him about it. We are not speaking!"

Many parents today face the stress and frustration that come with separating from another parent. Conflicts begin to arise with the other parent over what is best for their children. These conflicts can cause a great deal of stress for both parents and their kids. However, there are options to help resolve these disagreements and possibly keep them from happening in the first place.

Below are some alternative ways of thinking and communicating so that parents can develop solutions together that promote the well being of their children.

· Remember that your children are the priority.

Some parents can get caught up in heated arguments with one another, and they forget that the needs of their children come first. When it comes to discussing issues with another parent, remember where you are. It is important not to talk about your parenting problems in front of your children. They need to know that everything is okay so that they won't have to worry about their mothers and fathers. It is important to be a good role model.

· Don't talk down to another parent in front of your children.

When a parent is dealing with a conflict with another co-parent, it's important to speak to each other in a civil manner so that your children feel comfortable and safe. This way the kids won't have to stress over their parents' issues. Children see their parents as heroes. They don't want to hear one parent cutting down their hero/parent.

· Talk about your issues with other parents going through similar conflicts.

Communicating what you are feeling is an essential part of being a co-parent. Speaking with other parents who are dealing with separation issues and conflicts helps participants acknowledge that their feelings are important and that they aren't the only ones going through these tough situations. By communicating with others, parents can release their stress. Addition¬ally, parents can learn from other fathers and mothers by hearing their stories and learning which communication styles work and don't work.

· Give your children reassuring mes-sages to address their specific concerns. Likewise, be a mentor for your children.

Listen to their thoughts and concerns and tell them they did not cause this conflict between you and your co-parent. It is normal to have painful feelings about the conflict. Let them know you will always be responsible for and take care of them. There will be changes in their life, but parents must be diligent to insure many routines will stay the same for their children.

· Don't let your emotions with one an¬other get in the way of deciding what's best for your kids.

We are all only human, and we get angry and frustrated from time to time. While it is important to acknowledge what you are feeling towards another co-parent, it is also important to separate those feelings from your children. Sometimes when we let our negative emotions influence our decisions, we make bad decisions. Remember that what is best for your children is the most important part of being a parent—not what is best for you.

Putting your children first, speaking respectfully to each other, communicating with other separated parents, and not letting emotions dictate your decisions are all simple practices that help manage your stress as a co-parent. The importance of developing your communication style is vital to providing a stress-free and enjoyable environment for your kids. Most importantly, be a good role model.

If you would like more information on how to keep both parents actively involved in your child's life, along with keeping the conflict away from your child, consider attending a cooperative co-parenting class. This therapeutic class offers custodial and non-custodial parents a chance to talk to other mothers and fathers, along with learning healthy ways to listen and communicate with one another.

David McDonald is president of The Mediation Center, which offers co-parenting classes twice a month in Norfolk and once a month in Suffolk. For more information call 757-624-6666, visit www.media-tionhamptonroads.com, or email dove@ mediationhamptonroads.coin.

Rory Graham