In the animal world, if another animal tries to mess with a mother’s young, she’ll kill them.
In the human world, it’s a bit more difficult for parents to protect their children from a toxic co-parent.
With court orders and parental rights, one parent can’t simply whisk their child away from their other parent in order to keep them safe.
Trust me, I know how frustrating that can be!
Throughout my daughter’s life, I was told by a court order that I had to allow my ex access to her despite the way he treated her and affected her mental health.
It was heartbreaking to know that my child was not being treated properly and the way she deserved by her other parent.
So, because I couldn’t withhold access, I had to find ways to help my daughter build the strength to deal with the situation.
That’s what this article is all about. You may not be able to keep your toxic ex away from your kid, but you can find ways to protect them!
Before we get into how to protect your child from a narcissist and toxic parent, let’s look at some signs of narcissistic co-parenting:
Signs of a Toxic Narcissistic Co-Parent
Sometimes exes will make things difficult because of residual hurt feelings – but, eventually, things tend to smooth out, and you can parent with them harmoniously.
However, when you are trying to co-parent with an individual that is downright toxic or has a full-blown disorder like narcissism, it can be extremely frustrating and challenging.
Narcissists and toxic people (yes, I’m going to clump them together) are often defensive, inflexible, and manage situations by trying to take control.
A narcissistic co-parent is going to ignore and push your boundaries, disrespect you as a person and a parent, and get angry if you try to give them any criticism or feedback.
Here are some other signs of a toxic co-parent:
- Takes advantage of others
- Believes they are unique and powerful
- Lack of empathy
- Sense of entitlement
One of the best things you can do if you are dealing with a toxic or narcissistic co-parent is to limit your communication with them, avoid arguments, and create a parallel parenting plan.
Toxic Co-Parenting Effects on Kids
So, we’ve talked about what a toxic or narcissistic co-parent looks like, but how does toxic co-parenting affect kids?
Narcissistic parents use parenting styles that are based on control. They don’t treat their children with respect, they don’t compromise, and they don’t take responsibility for their actions.
Here are some other warning signs that your ex is a toxic or narcissistic parent:
- They use fear to gain compliance.
- They put their feelings first and invalidate their child’s feelings.
- They do things to control their child, such as guilt-tripping and demands.
- They judge, humiliate, and criticize their child.
What does toxic parenting do to a child?
If a child grows up in a dysfunctional environment, they are extremely likely to become dysfunctional adults.
When they don’t have a safe place to go for care, support, and love, they can develop issues such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Trust issues
- Abandonment issues
- Insecure or avoidant attachment relationships
- Loss of self-identity
Children who grow up with narcissistic parents may also begin to mirror that parent’s behavior and display the same toxic behaviors they experienced in their childhood.
While these effects are all possible, they are more likely to occur when the child does not have a loving parent to provide them with warmth and care.
So before you start stressing out because of how your toxic ex may influence your child, rest assured that your concern and involvement are enough to prevent this from happening!
How to Protect Your Child From an Emotionally Abusive Parent
Even though your presence is enough to help your child prevent developing dysfunction as an adult, they are still going to have a rough time when their other parent is toxic or narcissistic.
In most cases, they may experience emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse is tricky because it doesn’t leave bruises or scars, and it can range from subtle to obvious.
In order to recognize the presence of child abuse, you have to pay attention to your child’s behavior and notice any changes. Some signs of emotional abuse include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Avoidant behaviors (refuses to go to school, etc.)
- Delayed emotional development
- Regressions (bedwetting, etc.)
- Loss of interests
- Low self-esteem
Fortunately, there are laws against emotional abuse, and reporting known abuse is mandatory.
If you believe your child is being emotionally abused by their toxic parent, call your local child protective services and have them investigated.
You should also contact your doctor, a social worker, or a teacher about your concerns. They can help identify changes in your child’s behavior and help you with the next steps.
Protecting your child from an emotionally abusive parent is not as straightforward as it should be.
If you have a court order, you have to follow it despite your suspicions (this includes visitation, access, and parenting time).
However, court orders can be written to prohibit emotional abuse and include clauses that prevent the other parent from speaking negatively about you to the child, forbid angry outbursts, and regulate discipline.
But proving any of these things takes evidence, and you can’t stop parenting time while you gather it.
So if you suspect your child is being emotionally abused by their other parent, you need to act quickly:
- Report it to a child protective agency and contact a lawyer.
- Make an appointment with your doctor and have them refer your child to a therapist.
- Have your child speak to a therapist, who can then write a report for court if they believe your child is being emotionally abused.
- Have your lawyer file to make changes to the court order based on your evidence.
It’s unlikely that you will have the power to end access and visitation, but you may be able to have the courts enforce specific stipulations, such as supervised access, to help protect your child.
(Side Note: If you have joint custody, you may have to get your ex’s permission to allow your child to speak to a therapist, or, at the very least, you may have to notify them that your child is speaking to a therapist. Contact your local family law office to verify this in your area.)
Without a Court Order
If you don’t have a court order, you have a bit more room to protect your child from an emotionally abusive parent, but you still have to tread lightly.
Refusing your ex access to your child can result in angry outbursts, threats, and harassment. It may also prompt your ex to seek a court order – and they will likely get one.
When you go to court to have a court order established, all of your past behaviors come into play.
This is why you need to be careful about how you approach this situation – completely refusing to let your ex see their child with no evidence will not look good in court.
So, follow the same steps as you would if you had a court order: report it, get a therapist involved, talk to the school, etc.
How to Protect Your Child From a Narcissist
When your ex is a narcissistic co-parent, protecting your child has little to do with keeping the child away from them (unfortunately) and everything to do with helping your child cope with the situation.
This means giving them love and support while helping them build self-esteem, strength, and resiliency.
I look at my daughter, and I truly believe that she will become a stronger person because of her situation with her other parent!
And that’s because I am there to help guide her through that experience, whether it’s the way we talk about it, the way I model how to deal with the situation, or getting her into therapy.
Let’s look at some ways you can protect your child from a narcissist:
Talk To Your Child
At some point, you’re going to have to have a conversation with your child about their narcissistic parent.
Do so carefully! You can’t bad mouth your ex to your child, both for legal and emotional reasons.
Plus, you can’t convince your child that their parent is horrible. They need to come to that conclusion on their own.
Instead, you can help your child understand the situation and how their negative experience with their other parent is not their fault.
You can also educate them on boundaries and how they don’t always have to listen to their narcissistic parent just because they are an “authority.”
Model Good Behavior & Values
Children learn what they see, turning to the adults in their life to figure out how they should function and behave.
If their narcissistic parent was their only role model, you can imagine how they may turn out!
However, you are part of the equation, and you can model good behaviors and morals to offset what they see their other parent doing.
This means controlling your emotions and teaching your child how to respond responsibly to situations instead of resorting to outbursts.
It also means approaching life and people from a place of empathy and understanding.
Your child will pick up on all of this and make the connection between the way you act and your happiness. When they see their other parent, they will see anger and misery.
Be Their Safe Place
Most importantly, you need to provide your child with love, understanding, and empathy – all the things they will never receive from their narcissistic parent (at least not consistently and genuinely).
Actively listen to your child when they speak, and don’t judge or criticize.
Validate their feelings so they know that they can talk to you about anything.
Show your child that you love them instead of simply saying, “I love you,” all of the time. This will teach them that actions are just as important as words.
Helping Your Child Deal With Their Toxic Parent
I wish we could step in and facilitate how our children interact with their toxic parents, but we don’t have this kind of luxury.
Instead, as I mentioned before, we can help our children build resiliency to deal with their other parent.
Here are some ways you can help your child deal with their toxic parent:
- Teach them that they don’t need to win their other parent’s approval. Help them develop their own values and goals.
- Show them how to enforce boundaries and limits so that they feel comfortable saying “no” to their other parent when it doesn’t make sense.
- Tell your children that they don’t have to share information with their other parent that they are not comfortable sharing.
- Teach your child to stand their ground but don’t give them the false hope that they can change their other parent.
You can also encourage your child to engage in activities like meditation and journaling to help them process their feelings regarding their situation.Take a Listen:
Protect Your Child From a Toxic Co-Parent
While you likely can’t keep your ex away from your child, there are ways you can protect your little one from their toxic effects.
You can report emotional abuse to the proper authorities and healthcare providers.
If you have a court order, you can use evidence to amend it to protect your child.
Overall, you can protect your child from a narcissist by being their safe place and helping them build the strength and resilience they need so that their other parent does not negatively impact their emotional and mental health.
It’s a struggle, I know, but I can tell you from experience that it works!
In what ways do you protect your child from a narcissistic or toxic ex? Share your advice in the comments below: