Just as a chameleon changes its appearance to blend in, a child can behave in radically different ways depending on their environment. A chameleon kid is one who can tell you how much they love you, and say they never want to be away from you. Then this same child goes to the other parent and says the opposite. It’s a common coping mechanism born from divided loyalty and a desire to fit in. Chameleon kids will tell you what they think you want to hear. They will behave in ways they feel will get your approval. Left uncorrected, a child can lose all sense of their true feelings and personality.
Helping your children feel comfortable expressing honest emotions will help you build more authentic relationships with them. It will also lessen the conflict between you and your ex. It’s very common for divorcing couples to go to war in order to protect and provide according to the beliefs they have regarding the desires of the children, only to find their children have been playing both sides. Knowing what you hear and see from your child is genuine can save time and heartache for all involved.
How can you see your chameleon’s true colors?
- Compare notes with your ex. Parents who don’t talk to each other can unwittingly provide greater opportunities for children to manipulate the situation. When parents openly and frequently discuss their children with each other, inconsistencies can be identified and addressed before the problem worsens.
- Maintain an open dialogue with others who are in your child’s life in both settings. Extended family or babysitters can provide insight regarding any differences they notice.
- Consider counseling. A therapist can objectively listen and help you and your ex, help identify chameleon traits in your children, and help your kids develop skills to communicate more effectively. Since chameleon kids are often more susceptible to peer pressure, working with a therapist to establish their own identity is critical before the behavior spreads to other social settings.
- Don’t make your children choose. If your child knows that regardless of your own feelings about the other parent, you still support their relationship, they won’t feel obligated to speak negatively about them out of loyalty to you. Remember, your child may just as easily tell your ex they don’t like you, either. When children know they can love both parents without fear of abandonment or rejection, they will find the security needed to be themselves.
- Refrain from disparaging your ex. Your feelings are real and may be justified. But your kids are the last people who need to hear about it. Don’t allow your dislike for your ex to overwhelm your love for your child. Friends and counselors are better soundboards than kids and can provide fresh insight.
You may fear that if you don’t tell them how awful your ex is, they’ll somehow be fooled, stop loving you, and leave. Children, like most people, will base their opinions on what they see and experience. If you provided a safe, loving space for them to discuss how they feel, you’re far more likely to see your child’s true colors and avoid the missteps and misunderstandings common with chameleon kids
Take comfort in knowing that when results are not readily apparent, most kids, with maturity and knowledge, do begin to realize the truth of the situation, and, in time, the relationships can be restored.
If you feel this type of behavior is affecting the outcome of your case, don’t hesitate to reach out to a family law attorney.
At CoilLaw, Jill is committed to helping families as they move forward. If you need assistance from an attorney to help with these and other matters, please don’t hesitate to contact our office for a consultation with Jill. She can put your mind at ease and provide tools moving forward to give you a better chance for success as you enter this new chapter of your lives.