How to Deal With a “High-Conflict” Ex Who’s Using the Kids to Control You

When there’s a divorce situation, one parent tends to be rational while the other usually assumes a less than mature approach. Sadly, that’s often to the detriment of children living in the situation. 

Neither parent is innocent regardless of their role. One is shielding the kids, confusing them from what they see and hear around them instead of explaining what is true in terms they can understand. 

The other, in turn, is spewing damaging details of marital discourse and insults regarding the other parent in an attempt to make the children choose sides. All the while using the children in a manner of controlling the former partner. 

Things didn’t get better after the divorce; they got messier. What can you do as a rational parent attempting to raise confident, happy, healthy children? Ensure that you don’t hide the facts from what the kids already see happening around them. Allow them honesty but in age-appropriate, beneficial language. 

It will vastly differ from what they’re experiencing in your ex’s household, but that will resonate with the children. As far as the ex, how can you stop the toxic behavior? It took leaving to get away from the abuse. Stopping is unlikely, but you do need to find methods to become tolerant for the kids’ sake. Let’s learn.

Dealing with your Ex who is using your kids against you

In a toxic relationship, the abuser wallows in power and control using any means necessary to make the victim need them in some capacity. Once the relationship ends, the victim and the kids walk away. But that abuser isn’t finished with “ruling” over the mate. 

The only “bargaining chip” for the abuser to use against the victim now, though, is the kids, and the ex is not above stooping to that level.

What can you do In this sort of situation, where the kids are essentially used as “pawns?” No one wants to be exposed to the behaviors involved in the relationship prior to leaving. The idea is to keep the kids’ best interests as the priority. 

In order to ensure that remains at the forefront, the rational parent needs to stay as neutral as possible, not reacting to the toxic behavior of the ex. Instead, it’s important to show a calm, reasonable approach with boundaries put in place and consistent reminders when these are neglected – and they will be. 

This is not because you want to; it’s because you’re a parent, and you have to co-parent in a healthy way for the kids. Here are a few ways to attempt to do just that.


The first step for your own health and well-being is accepting what you cannot change. This person will never change who they are. The individual is manipulative and damaging as an individual. 

The only way to respond to someone like this is to control how you react to the behavior. Once someone who thrives in power and control doesn’t get the response they’re hoping for from you; they lose just a little bit of that power.

The more you take that stance, the less the ex will come at you and the children with that mindset of manipulation and deceit because it won’t affect the kids or you. The thing to remember is to communicate with the kids in an age-appropriate and exceptionally healthy manner. So they can understand what’s happening around them. 

Shielding them only makes them develop their own conclusions, which could eventually cause damage.

Set intentional boundaries

A person of high conflict will not be a fan of boundaries, nor will they abide by them voluntarily; more so, the individual will be pompous about not following the boundaries. The important thing is that you be extra vigilant about maintaining yours.

Often with this type of personality, drama is used readily to entice a reaction causing you to develop a habit of responding with equal intensity by always answering instantly and being exceptionally emotional with the response. That should no longer be the case. 

Except for dire emergencies, anything that transpires can usually wait for a response. Try to avoid answering emails and texts as they come in, even if there’s a pretense that a child is in need of something, particularly if you’re becoming emotional. Allow some time to gather your thoughts.

Disallow access to the lifestyle happening in your household. Your ex has a specific set of rules in their home, and you have house rules that might differ. It’s not necessary to defend anything that you have going on or attempt to correct something that you feel needs to be altered on your former partner’s end in the way of parenting. 

If there is an issue like attempting to manipulate parent time or avoiding child support, don’t handle those problems yourself; contact your attorney to deal with those things – boundaries.

Adjust your communication style according to the facts / low conflict

It can be easy to become defensive, tear-up, angry, or even sarcastic. But that’s how your ex hopes you’ll respond because it will lead to worsening conflict. Regardless of how intense or nasty the ex’s vernacular might become, it would be best if you came back with straight facts citing the custody arrangement as to why the ex’s plans with the children won’t work and end the conversation.

There’s no need to share personal feelings; use “I” or “you” statements merely speak according to the court documents. It will help if you become accepting of the fact that reasoning with an unreasonable person is impossible.

Leave personal feelings out of the equation

When you disengage from the conflict, you’ll learn not to take what your ex says directly to you personally. In many cases, the abuser often projects their own problems onto their victim. 

The individual has a “skewed” sense of what’s real. When you come to recognize this, the things that are said will no longer hurt, and you won’t feel it necessary to attempt to get this person to comprehend the point you’re trying to make, generally wasting substantial time on your part.

As much as you might try, you’ll never change the thought process of your ex, who has opinions on your parenting style and value as a person. These things were decided long ago, and this sort of person has no intention of admitting they’re wrong. Don’t allow them in your head.

When you need positivity, motivation, or encouragement, talk with people who care for you and support you or those for whom you have explicit trust. Much of the nonsense happening with this person will start to calm down when you don’t give the person the reaction they’re hoping will fan the flames of the conflict.

How do you deal with the kids’ feelings?

The kids are hearing a lot of negativity from an unhealthy ex which could be harmful. It’s not better to say nothing, at one point, the “conventional old-school method.” 

When kids hear upsetting and frightening things from one household or even merely sense that anger and conflict are happening between you, it can become confusing to them when you behave with them as if everything is fine. 

It will leave them attempting to draw their own conclusions from what’s happening around them or talk with friends or people outside the home to get advice, which can be severely detrimental. The reality of the situation needs to come from you.

Kids need to be able to trust their intuition and believe in what their feelings are telling them; you shouldn’t deny these for them. But, instead, confirm them appropriately and healthfully with only as much detail as is absolutely necessary, especially with little ones. 

The idea is to parent your children effectively, don’t respond or react to the craziness, and all of you progress forward to a more healthy and fulfilling life.


An abuser will do their best to get a reaction to keep the conflict progressing into a more intense and heated interaction. The individual feeds on power and control with the hope that the victim will need something they have. 

When the victim walks away from that life, the abuser is desperate to find something that will draw the partner back in, creating more need. Sadly, that’s where the kids come in. 

They become pawns in his toxic game. Instead of prioritizing their best interests, the abuser looks for self-satisfaction. The only way to stop the behavior is in the way you respond to this need for power. 

When you meet the intense drama that most of these abusers are suited for with a calm, reasonable and neutral reaction, there will be no possibility for conflict, hopefully leaving the former toxicity and controlling behavior behind. 

Eventually, the individual will hopefully begin to calm down, leaving the kids to be able to progress forward much more peacefully and healthfully, which should have been the priority all along.

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Our writers share the same interests, which is the passion for writing based on in-depth research and helpful information. We're a team of writers in the social media world, so we know how to deal with common issues on dating and friendship, and we share tips and tricks for everyone.

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