I know many people who do what I call “rough kidding.” They throw out insults as a way to get a laugh or make a “joke.” What I have always found peculiar is how unfunny their comments can be and how these “jokes” are never made at their expense.
Now throw into the mix a child who doesn’t understand when an adult is “kidding” and isn’t old enough to get the references. They simply think that the adult is being mean to them. There are adults and even parents who simply don’t get that they are implanting all kinds of negative comments into a child’s mind when they are so verbally abusive to them.
What if the adult is your ex? What if they are verbally abusive to your kids, either intentionally or unintentionally? What can you do? The first thing you want to do is to consider the intentions of your ex. Is this something that he/she has grown up being taught to do? Is this the way it was for his/her family, did they all do this to each other? While it isn’t a valid excuse, it will help you determine that perhaps this is a case of learned behavior and not an intention to be mean. Once you have determined this then you can approach it in an appropriate manner.
Talk to your ex if you can and explain to him/her that the children do not realize that he/she is “kidding.” Ask them to be conscious of what they are saying and how they are saying it and if the children have questioned this make sure you let your ex know that too. If your ex isn’t trying to be mean, they may feel remorse that they didn’t realize the effect they were having on the kids.
If however, your ex has no misconceptions about the way he/she talks to people because he/she is consciously being mean, then this can be a bit more difficult to combat. You can try to talk to him/her about it but if the two of you do not have an amiable relationship then it may go in one ear and out the other.
It may be best to combat the situation by talking to the kids. Explain to them that they are great kids and do not deserve to be spoken to like that. Try to let them understand that adults make mistakes too and that no matter how old you are you still have a responsibility to control yourself and not be so mean to other people, including and especially to the ones you are supposed to love.
Children are going to realize when they are in an uncomfortable situation. They will not want to spend too much time with someone who is so mean to them so in many ways your ex will bury themselves through their own actions. Still, keep a record of everything the children say to you and things you’ve heard your ex say. This can be helpful if the need arises to return to court to amend the custody order.
Verbal abuse IS abuse. It destroys children’s self-esteem and confidence. Do all that you can do to counter this negative issue by showering your children with compliments and love. Build their self-esteem with praise and let them know that they are great human beings.
Amber J. Cabrera
Inspiration from: Using divorce mediation : save your money & your sanity / by Katherine E. Stoner.
Berkeley, Calif. : Nolo Press, c1999.