What to do if your child refuses contact with the other parent

Dealing with a situation where your child refuses to see their other parent can be challenging and emotionally taxing.

If your child refuses contact with the other parent, it can be helpful to communicate openly with the other parent about the problem at hand. It can also be helpful to spend time listening to your child's perspective so you can better understand their decision.

Slowly, and if it is safe to do so, it may be appropriate to encourage your child to articulate their feelings directly with the other parent. If your child feels unable or unwilling to do this, child inclusive mediation may be a good option.

In this blog, we will explore various approaches for handling this delicate issue and provide guidance on how parents can work together to find a solution.

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What makes a child not want to spend time with a parent?

There are a variety of reasons that a child may not want to spend time with a parent, some common reasons may include:

  • Parental Conflict - Exposure to frequent arguments and hostility between parents can make a child feel uneasy or stressed, leading them to avoid contact with one or both parents.

  • Fear - A child may be afraid of a parent due to past negative experiences, abusive behaviour, or other factors that make them feel unsafe in their presence.

  • Pressure - Children may feel pressured by one parent to choose sides or distance themselves from the other parent, which can cause emotional stress and impact their relationship with both parents.

  • Loyalty Conflicts - Children may experience loyalty conflicts, feeling they need to protect or support one parent, which can lead to the refusal of contact with the other parent.

  • Change in Routine - A significant change in a child's routine or environment, such as a new living situation or school, can create stress and may affect their willingness to spend time with a parent.

  • Independence and Social Commitments - As children grow up, they may want to spend more time with their friends and/or engaging in hobbies and past-times.

However, there are a variety of other reasons a child may not want to spend time with a parent depending on their specific situation and circumstance.

At what age can a child refuse to see a parent?

There is no universal legal age at which a child can refuse to see a parent. However, a child can legally decide who they want to live with at the age of 16.

What to do if your child refuses contact with the other parent

Firstly, it is important to openly communicate with the other parent about the problem at hand. By discussing the situation honestly and collaboratively, both parents can better understand the child's concerns and work towards finding a solution that serves the child's best interests.

It's also key to chat with your child and find out why they're avoiding the other parent.

Once you've talked things through with the other parent, try to work together to encourage your child to connect with them. This can be done by promoting communication through phone calls, video chats, or messages.

While facilitating this contact, it is important to remain neutral and supportive, allowing the child to express their feelings and concerns. Remember this may be a long process, so small steps towards communication may be the best way.

If the situation remains unresolved or worsens, seeking professional assistance, such as child mediation or therapy, can be a valuable option. These services can help improve communication between family members and address any underlying issues that may be affecting the child's willingness to see the other parent.

Communicating with the other parent

Maintaining open communication with the co-parent can be beneficial when a child resists contact with the other parent. Notifying the other parent about the child's reluctance serves not only as a courtesy but also contributes to finding a solution that considers everyone involved. Open, honest discussions can help both parents comprehend the child's feelings and jointly address the issue.

It's important to handle these conversations with empathy and a readiness to collaborate. Keeping accusations or blame out of the dialogue can prevent unnecessary conflict and avoid escalating the situation. Instead, concentrate on sharing your concerns and providing any relevant information about the child's emotions and behaviour.

Selecting a suitable communication method that encourages a calm, thoughtful conversation is also key. Depending on the co-parents' relationship and preferred communication styles, this could be a face-to-face meeting, a phone call, or a written message.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to find a solution that benefits the child.

Talk to your child about why they don't want to go

When your child shows reluctance towards spending time with their other parent, initiating an open and honest dialogue with them can shed light on their reasons. This will allow you to comprehend their apprehensions and emotions better, and collectively devise a strategy to tackle any underlying concerns.

When engaging in this conversation, approach it with empathy and sensitivity. Validate their feelings and reassure them of your unwavering support. Encourage them to articulate their thoughts and attentively listen to their perspective without any prejudgement.

During this discussion, your child's interests should be your primary concern. You may have personal sentiments and perceptions about the other parent, but it's crucial to put these aside and concentrate on what is in your child's best interest.

If your child has legitimate apprehensions or objections regarding spending time with the other parent, collaborate with the co-parent to develop solutions that address these worries, all the while ensuring the child's relationship with both parents remains intact.

By empathetic listening to your child's perspective and prioritising their interests, you can aid them in navigating this complex situation, fostering healthy and meaningful relationships with both parents, and most importantly, ensuring their safety and well-being.

It's important to note that if your child's reluctance is based on genuine concerns for their safety and well-being, alternative measures should be considered. In such instances, professional advice should be sought to ensure the child's protection. This could involve reaching out to a child protection agency, who can provide guidance on the most suitable course of action.

Encouraging contact

Encouraging your child to interact with their other parent might be a daunting task, but there are practical and achievable steps you can take to gradually ease this process.

The introduction of gradual small steps may prove helpful in this process. For instance, you could start by encouraging brief, enjoyable activities with the other parent, gradually lengthening the duration and frequency of the meetings as your child becomes more comfortable.

Another beneficial tactic is to make the shifts between one parent's home to the other's as seamless as possible. Establishing a routine and a predictable schedule can provide your child with a sense of security and anticipation. They'll know what to expect and can mentally prepare themselves for the transition.

Involving the co-parent in the process is another effective strategy. Granted that the relationship between the parents is on good terms, collaboratively working towards a smoother transition can be beneficial. This collaboration can manifest as a comprehensive parenting plan, synchronised schedules and transportation, sharing insights about the child's needs and preferences, and maintaining open and transparent communication about any arising concerns or issues.

Remember, consistency and patience are key in this process. Your child may need time to adapt to the new arrangement, but with your steady support and perseverance, you can guide them towards establishing a positive and healthy relationship with both parents.

Agree on a parenting plan

Creating a parenting plan can be an effective strategy when your child is resisting contact with one parent. This plan maps out shared responsibilities and important decisions regarding your child, spanning areas like living arrangements, education, healthcare, and holiday visits. A well-planned structure can provide a sense of stability and predictability, crucial for a child dealing with such a sensitive situation.

In such scenarios, child mediation might prove to be a beneficial pathway to developing a parenting plan. It facilitates the creation of a flexible and detailed agreement that caters to your family's unique needs and addresses your child's concerns.

Remember your role as a parent

As a parent, you play a critical role in your child's life, especially during difficult circumstances such as when they refuse contact with their other parent. It's important to remember that your child looks up to you as a role model, and your actions and attitudes can greatly influence their behaviour and decision-making.

One way to encourage your child to have contact with the other parent is to model positive behaviour and a respectful attitude towards the co-parent. Avoid making negative comments or engaging in arguments or conflict in front of your child. Instead, focus on fostering a positive and supportive relationship with the other parent, even if you don't always see eye-to-eye.

In addition, make an effort to show your child that you value the importance of having a relationship with both parents. Emphasise the positive aspects of spending time with their other parent, and help them understand that maintaining a healthy relationship with both parents can benefit them in the long run.

Provide Support

It's also important to provide emotional support to your child during this difficult time. Let them know that you understand how challenging it can be to spend time away from one parent, and offer them reassurance and encouragement. Encourage open communication, and be available to listen to their concerns and feelings without judgement.

Remember that your role as a parent is to provide a stable, nurturing environment for your child, even in difficult circumstances. By being a positive influence in your child's life and supporting their relationship with the other parent, you can help them navigate this challenging situation and build healthy, meaningful relationships with both parents.

Consider mediation

When disputes around your child's resistance to contact with a co-parent arise, mediation may provide a solution. Mediation involves a neutral third party facilitating a respectful conversation between co-parents to reach an agreement that serves the child's needs.

Mediation can be effective in family disputes as it fosters a cooperative atmosphere, preserves relationships, and provides a platform for both parties to voice their concerns. Moreover, it's often a cost-effective, efficient alternative to litigation.

Mediation services can address an array of family-related issues. They can assist in devising a parenting plan, addressing custody disputes, or even overseeing the division of household assets and property.

However, in certain situations like those involving abuse, neglect, or domestic violence, mediation might not be the best approach. In such cases, it's advisable to seek legal advice and explore alternative dispute resolution methods.

Child inclusive mediation

In situations where a child is refusing to see a parent, child inclusive mediation can be a valuable tool. This process allows the child to express their feelings, fears, or concerns in a safe environment, under the guidance of a trained professional. It acknowledges the child as a participant in the family system and values their perspectives.

In child inclusive mediation, a specially trained family mediator talks with the child separately from the parents. This is a confidential meeting, but with the agreement of the child the mediator can share messages with the parents in a mediation session . This way, the child's voice is integrated into the discussion without placing them in the middle of the conflict. You can learn more about what questions a mediator may ask your child.

Get in touch

If you're facing this situation where a child is refusing contact with the other parent, or family disputes in general, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Mediation First’s family mediation can provide support and help you find a peaceful resolution. Reach out today, and let's take the first step towards a better future for you and your child.