Dear Marsha: Navigating the Impact of Emotional Harm in Co-Parenting

In our Dear Marsha blog series, Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett answers questions submitted by parents like you on all matters related to shared parenting. 


Two girls play with blocks together at a table.

In the case that there is a history of emotional abuse between the parents, the parent-child bond should not necessarily suffer as a consequence. At the same time, children should be raised to become aware of and resilient in case they become recipients of emotional abuse. How do you recommend navigating this dilemma?

Emotional harm between parents can have a negative impact for both parents and children. Every effort should be made to protect children from the exposure of emotional harm. For children to become resilient in the face of emotional harm, they need to have parents who will protect them and buffer them against the negative consequences of abuse in whatever form it appears.  

Parents need to be mindful that children’s individual reactions will differ and that their response to the harm will be as individualized as the children themselves.  Children may or may not show emotional signs of distress, and they may choose not to talk about it with a parent (especially if they already feel stuck in the middle or with the abusing parent). Making sure the children get the help needed to understand what is happening and take steps to protect themselves is important for building resiliency and protecting them from long term harm.

Children need an outlet (group programs, therapy, counsellor) to talk about their feelings outside of their family so they can talk freely about what worries them and how they think things need to change to make things better. Building resiliency in children is about empowering them to feel control over a situation and providing them with a voice so that they can talk to others and feel heard. 



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Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett

About Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett

Marsha Kline Pruett is the Maconda Brown O’Connor Professor at Smith College School for Social Work. She has a Ph.D. in Clinical/Community Psychology, and masters’ degrees in psychological services in education and in legal studies, and she is a Board Diplomate in Couples and Family Psychology.

She has 30 years of practice experience, specializing in couples counseling and co-parenting consultation as well as intervention design and evaluation. She has published extensively for professional and lay audiences, including two books (Your Divorce Advisor and Partnership Parenting). Her research and writings center on couple relationships before and after divorce; coparenting; father involvement; and family conflict.

She is involved in consulting and research projects spanning supporting father involvement interventions; the evaluation of online parenting programs; and model alternative dispute resolution programs that help families resolve disputes outside of the adversarial system.

Dr. Kline Pruett consults on national boards and Task Forces and provides training nationally and abroad to mental health and legal professionals. She is Past President for the Association of Family and Conciliation Court Professionals (AFCC) and Social Science Editor for Family Court Review.