How to reach out during an estrangement

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD offers suggestions for parents who have become estranged from their children after a divorce
Divorce Advice | How to reach out to a child during an estrangement
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How to reach out during an estrangement

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So a lot of the parents that I work with come to me because they've been cut off by an adult child or a teenager after divorce. They want to know, "What do I say?" And the first thing that you have to do is really try to make it safe for your child to talk to your. It's the case of the divorce and the case of Parental Alienation Syndrome where your ex is actually poisoning your child against you. It's important that you not do anything to reinforce that. So you don't want to talk about your ex in any kind of a negative way, but to talk to them in an as affectionate way as possible, even though you may have to fake it. You want to remember that their love for their mother or their father, your ex, is part of the ways that they love themselves. So if you're poisoning them about their mother or their father, you're poisoning them about themselves. This is crucial to remember. So many parents feel like they're going to get back at their exes by getting mad at the kid through the ex and you're just hurting your child. Not only are you hurting your child, you're hurting your relationship to the child. You're ruining your credibility with that child by making them feel like you care more about yourself than you do about them. They need to love that parent no matter how terribly that parent has behaved. So that's the case of Parental Alienation Syndrome. You want to be affectionate, interested, empathic, hear their complaints. If the kids says, "Well, why didn't ever pay child support? Or why were you always so mean to dad?" If there's a kernel of truth in it, you want to speak to the kernel of truth. If there's not a kernel of truth, you might want to say, "Well, you know, your mom and I see that very differently so I think it's something that's between the two of us, but what was that like for you when she said that? What was that like for you when dad said that about me?" Again, make the empathy about them, not about you. That's your biggest tool in the tool chest.

Psychologist Joshua Coleman, PhD offers suggestions for parents who have become estranged from their children after a divorce

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Expert Bio

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Joshua Coleman, PhD

Author & Psychologist

Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area and Co-Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families, a non-partisan organization composed of leading sociologists, historians, psychologists and demographers dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. He has lectured at Harvard University and The University of California at Berkeley and blogs on parent-adult child relationships for the U.C. Berkeley publication, Greater Good Magazine, the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Dr. Coleman is frequently contacted by the media for opinions and commentary about changes in the American family. He has been a frequent guest on the Today Show, NPR, and The BBC, and has also been featured on Sesame Street, 20/20, Good Morning America, PBS, AARP,  America Online Coaches,  and numerous news programs for FOX, ABC, CNN, and NBC television. His advice appears often in The New York Times, The Times of London, Fortune, Newsweek, The Chicago Tribune, Slate, Psychology Today, U.S. World and News Report, Parenting Magazine, The Baltimore Sun and many others.

He has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco, The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology, and the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group. He is the author of numerous articles and chapters and has written four books:  When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) The Marriage Makeover: Finding Happiness in Imperfect Harmony (St. Martin's Press); The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework (St. Martin's Press); and Married with Twins: Life, Love and the Pursuit of Marital Harmony. His books have been translated into Chinese, Croatian, and Korean, and are also available in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. He is formerly a contributing editor to Twins Magazine.

 Dr. Coleman is a sought-after public speaker on topics related to the family. He is also co-editor, along with historian Stephanie Coontz of the yearly online volume, Unconventional Wisdom: News You Can Use, a compendium of noteworthy research on the contemporary family, gender, sexuality, poverty, and work-family issues.  He runs a popular webinar series for estranged parents and a free newsletter for parents, The Coleman Report.

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