© 2013 by Bill Eddy, LCSW, CFLS
Parenting without Conflict is an online co-parenting course based on the co-parenting curriculum of New Ways for Families®. New Ways is a counseling and coaching method for parents re-organizing their families after a separation or divorce. New Ways was specifically designed for parents who are stuck in an endless cycle of defensive thinking and extreme behaviors.
How do we know it’s effective? In developing the Parenting without Conflict online course, the curriculum from New Ways for Families in-person program was transferred in it’s entirely to an online platform. The New Ways curriculum is based on interventions proven successful: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy. (Read more about the research completed on the in-person New Ways program).
When should parents take this online course? Ideally, Parenting Without Conflict should be used at the start of a case before big decisions are made, to increase the likelihood of cooperation and joint decision making, thereby preventing the parties from becoming high-conflict. However, the course is valuable at any point in the process, often used as a Level Two course.
Program Design: Structure, Skills & Emotional Management: The program was specifically designed for high conflict parents, but can be used with any case in which the parties are struggling with decision making and need to learn new problem-solving skills, such as a Level Two co-parenting class.
Some parents need more structure and accountability than others. High conflict people lack self-awareness and basic problem solving skills. They are unable to manage their emotions, which leads to extreme behavior. They constantly return to court with increased demands, expecting the judge to “see their side” and make decisions in their favor. However, they will never be satisfied with the decisions of the judge and will continue to return to court on every issue. They are determined to keep the conflict going instead of looking for ways to resolve it.
How is this course different? Parenting without Conflict is different than a standard parenting class in two ways. First, the course provides the structure and accountability that high conflict parents need, in a skills-based format rather than a lecture-based format. Second, it focuses on the long term effects of ongoing conflict on children and the co-parenting relationship, rather than focusing on short term change in parents’ behavior, likely to last only during the divorce process or until the court has made orders in their favor.
What skills will parents learn? Research shows that many high conflict parents may be able to change, with sufficient structure and learning small skills in small steps – with a lot of repetition.
The course focuses on three fundamental problem-solving skills:
flexible thinking (making realistic proposals, acknowledging that there is more than one solution, acknowledging that people are not “all-bad” or “all-good”, avoiding “all-or-nothing” thinking)
managed emotions (controlling one’s anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety so as to not over-react and take things personally; so as to not pass on these feelings to the child)
moderate behaviors (avoiding extreme actions, including extreme behavior during custody exchanges, extreme parenting order requests, and violence; techniques for moderate behavior during communication).
Without these skills, they are unable to behave reasonably when confronted with conflict. They think in extreme ways, which leads to extreme behavior. And, they don’t even recognize that they are doing it!
Other Parent Education courses: Instead of focusing on practical skills for conflict resolution, parenting classes often focus on providing education and resources in a lecture format. They assume that parents will hear the information, process it, and change their behavior accordingly. However, with high conflict people, the parenting class instructors are “talking to the wrong brain.” This is true for both in-person and online classes. High conflict parents are unable to take in the information and change their behavior accordingly because they are “stuck” making decisions based on their feelings – not logic. They view the world through their right, emotional side of the brain, rather than the left, logical side. Therefore, difficult parents don’t really “hear” the information presented in parenting classes because they don’t know how to automatically engage the logical side of their brain.
Parent Accountability: Parenting without Conflict provides the necessary structure, accountability, and repetition by requiring that each parent complete written practice exercises and journal entries throughout the course. And, the skills are reinforced in future sessions so parents are continuously practicing the skills throughout the entire course.
Research shows that written exercises engage the problem-solving side of our brain and can work to emotionally calm the person. Each parent has many opportunities throughout the course to practice the skills and use them when applying the information to hypothetical situations as well as their own situations. Applying the skills to their own situation helps them prepare for future decisions that will need to be made, before they are expected to make them.
Future vs Past, Guilt/Shame vs Empowerment: Parenting without Conflict focuses on positive future behavior – how to effectively co-parent, how to teach their child skills for resilience for future success, how to use appropriate problem solving skills for future situations – rather than focusing on past “bad” behavior that only tends to increase the parent’s defensiveness.
Rather than taking a “shaming” or “guilt-based” approach, this curriculum focuses on future behavior for successful, long-term co-parenting – thereby empowering parents to manage their own emotions, maintain their composure when communicating with the other parent, and take responsibility for the behaviors they exhibit in front of their children. The course focuses on the outcome for the child by helping parents create a co-parenting environment that is healthy for the child and teaches skills for resilience.
While parenting classes are beneficial for many parents going through the divorce or custody process, they simply don’t provide what is necessary for long-term behavioral change for high conflict (or potentially high conflict) parents. This course was specifically designed for these types of parents who need a Level Two skills-based course.
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist and mediator. He is the co-founder of High Conflict Institute, which provides training and consultation for dealing with high-conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and has developed several methods for managing high-conflict people in any situation. For more information on managing high-conflict people and situations in family law, visit us at www.HighConflictInstitute.com and www.NewWays4Families.com.