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Resist/Refuse Dyanmics
                and the polarized child

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Keeping Kids Out Of The Middle
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Triangulation describes the child's experience caught between his/her/their conflicted caregivers. This child feels torn by a loyalty bind, as if loving one parent is a betrayal of the other. This impossible tension can undermine school successes and disrupt friendships, spark physical health symptoms (e.g., tummy aches and headaches), and can cause developmental regression.

The triangulated child needs to resolve this tension in order to get on with life. Some change who they are moment-to-moment the way that a chameleon changes its colors to suit its environment. Chameleon kids Some pick sides, aligning with Parent A and rejecting Parent B. Polarized child

No matter how the triangulated child adapts to the pressures of the adult conflict, health and development are compromised. Our job as family law professionals is to fully understand the unique recipe of dynamics at play for each child and to recommend interventions intended to give the child the opportunity to enjoy a healthy relationship with both (all) caregivers.

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When parents and courts fail to keep their kids out of the middle,
 the child can be harmed in many distinct ways.
Family Law Consulting and Dr. Ben Garber bring cutting edge, empirical data,
effective assessment and intervention tools,
and decades of experience to bear on avoiding and, as necessary,
recognizing and remedying these unhealthy dynamics.

The alienated child

When a child is needlessly exposed to Parent A's unwarranted negatives about Parent B, the child's relationship with Parent B can be compromised. This is parental alienation.
  • Parental alienation is NOT a syndrome. It cannot be diagnosed in a child. It is a characteristic of a family system. It is a relationship dynamic.
  • To alienate a child from a parent is a selfish, angry and immature act tantamount to abuse.
  • Parental alienation can cause a child to resist or refuse contact with the targeted parent. Family Law Consulting PLLC will advise counsel and the courts how best to respond to these extreme and destructive dynamics.
  • Alienation seldom occurs alone. It is often accompanied by enmeshment to some degree and in some form with the favored parent. This includes adultification, parentification and infantilization.

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The polarized child

Science and experience have taught us that a wide variety of dynamics and practical considerations commonly work together to cause a child to become aligned with Parent A and resist or refuse contact with Parent B. Alienation is just one piece of this larger puzzle. Rather than presume why the child has been polarized within the conflicted family system, its important to refer to visible behaviors. Thus, we talk about Resist/Refuse Dynamics and the Polarized Child.

"The Family Law Professional's Field Guide to High Conflict Litigation" (Garber, Prescott, and Mulchay, 2022, the American Bar Association) is the world's first empirically-informed, user-friendly compendium of high conflict family dynamics. It is a "must-read" and a constant "must-refer" for every family law professional who knows to look beyond the binary blame built into alienation accusations.

The Field Guide
The adultified child

The adultified child has been prematurely promoted to serve as the favored parent's ally, best friend, confidante or co-parent. many children enjoy being treated as "special" but accept this role at tremendous developmental cost. This and similarly disturbed roles fuel anxiety and anger and can corrupt relationships for a lifetime to come.

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The parentified child

The parentified child  has been prematurely promoted to serve as the favored parent's caregiver. This child gives up childhood because there's no one else there to make sure that mom or dad takes their medicine, stays away from drugs and alcohol, or doesn't simply kill him- or herself.

The infantilized child

The infantilized child lives with a caregiver who needs to feel needed. This parent can't let go; can't allow the child to move toward independence as every child person must. The infantilized child remains developmentally primitive NOT because of a genetic or genuine developmental difference, but in order to serve a parent's pathological needs.
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The child as messenger

Keeping kids out of the middle means allowing children to remain children as long as possible. It means insulating them from the adult conflict, reassuring them that they are okay and that its okay to love both parents even though the parents no longer love one another Read more here

When parents enlist a child as a messenger, the child is being put in the middle. It doesn't matter if you plainly tell your child what to say (or not to say) to the other parent or more simply put a sealed envelope in the child's backpack. The effect can be the same.
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The chameleon child

A parent's attention and affection are the fuel that keeps a child going. Kids will do almost anything to earn that precious fuel.

Caught in the midst of an adult war, migrating between very different homes, many children say what they believe their immediate listener wants to hear. They change their "colors" like a chameleon in order to fit in.

The problem with this very successful short-term adaptation is its long term effects: Parents who can't communicate believe what they hear and take the child's words as validation for their continuing war. The child, meantime, has missed the opportunity to discover self and may always thereafter struggle to feel loved and belonging.

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The child as spy

Worse even than enlisting a child as a messenger is enlisting the child as a spy. The message here is simple and clear: "It's you and me against your other parent. Snoop in the drawers. Search the computer. Read the text messages and tell me what you find." This child learns to earn one parent's love and praise and gratitude by disrespecting the other.

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