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Parents   »   Children’s ignoring or turning to “wrong” coparent

Children’s ignoring or turning to “wrong” coparent

Children have different strategies for coping with a parental separation and shared time with both parents. From a child’s perspective, it may be easier emotionally to ignore one parent completely than to show emotions and “open up” the week they are staying with the other parent.

A summary of this article below.

To ignore can work as protection for the child

It’s common for children to ignore the parent they don’t currently live with. They might not say hi to you if you happen to run into each other in public, instead they might look away or look right through you. Others might refuse to talk on the phone or on a videoservice. This is children’s way of managing a new family situation – to think away the parent they don’t currently live with. This protection against starting to miss them must be respected.

The behavior is all about children’s own needs – not about you as a parent

Getting ignored by your child can be really hard. Especially when going through a separation when you as an adult might be having a tough time. It’s important to remember that the child’s behaviour is likely about their own needs – not about showing you as a parent. Later on, you can talk about it: “When we met in the store, sweetheart, you didn’t want to look at me, but I waved a bit anyway.”

It’s also important to refrain from calling if the child doesn’t want to talk. It’s better to make an agreement with the other parent that the child can call when they want. Maybe the parent should message first, so that they make sure to be available if the child wants to reach out.

Different parents for different things

Children often turn to the parent they are currently living with, but they can also prefer their parents for different things. One might provide fun activities and the other get all the trusts. Perhaps the child wants their mom to come to the swim competition even though it’s dad’s weekend – “she is so good at cheering”. Plus, she knows the other parents in the team. Maybe the child calls their dad when something feels difficult, even though it’s mom’s week.

How to handle the child’s preferences

Parents may find their child’s choices unfair. It can lead to anger and jealousy. But fighting with your child or scolding your coparent for creating the unfairness is of course not an example of mature parenting. On the contrary, I think you should be happy if your child is brave enough to show what they want and need.

Too often children adapt to what they think their parents want. That doesn’t mean you have to helplessly accept the role your child has assigned you, but you can’t change your child or your coparent. However, you can change yourself.


  • If a child is ignoring you, it may be a defense mechanism for them.
  • The behavior is about the child’s needs – not yours as a parent.
  • Parents are different and children may turn to the parent they have an extra need for at that moment.
  • Try to be happy that the child can show what they need. If you want to change the situation in a positive way, spend more time with the child and focus on things the child is interested in and finds fun. Be patient.
Malin Bergström
Child psychologist