How to Deal If Your Ex Talks Negatively about You in Front of the Kids

It's a situation every co-parent dreads: You pick up the kids after a weekend with their other parent, and they immediately fill you in on every hurtful thing your ex said about you. As you listen to your child share this information, questions fill your mind. Why did my ex-wife or ex-husband say these nasty things about me? Better yet, why did they say these things to the kids? And what can I do about it?

Shared parenting time or joint custody after a divorce can enhance your child’s life, but many ex-couples have a difficult time navigating the waters at first. No matter how angry or brokenhearted you feel after hearing the news that your ex spoke ill of you to your child, take heart. The answers to the questions racing through your mind are likely not as hard to find as you may think.

When your ex speaks badly of you to your kids

Occasionally, ex-spouses slip up and say inappropriate things in front of the kids without realizing it. However, there's a big difference between a parent expressing how much happier they are post-divorce and one parent dragging the other parent's name in the mud. 

So, what could potentially be said that’s so bad? 

  • An ex may share delicate information about why the marriage ended with the children. They might make accusations or other negative statements about the parent who isn't present. 
  • One parent might rag on the other parent's ability to care for the children or their lack of interest in spending time with them. 
  • An ex might even use slurs and profanities when talking about their former spouse just because they see it as their right to say mean things about a person who hurt them.

Regardless of what was said or why, though, the last thing you want to hear is that your ex spoke about you negatively in front of your kids. It’s simply not in a child’s best interest to be exposed to such talk. Depending on the way your children deliver the news – and what was said – you may feel your blood begin to boil, or you may notice tears stinging your eyes. Anger, sadness, and confusion are all understandable emotions in this situation ... especially if you receive the intel from young children.

Why does my ex say bad things about me to the kids?

There's no excuse for one parent bashing the other in front of the kids. This behavior is uncalled for and should never be justified. However, understanding why a former spouse may badmouth their ex can help you see the situation from a more rational place and determine how to handle it.

Here are some possible reasons why your ex said the negative things they said:

It’s their normal behavior

If you left an abusive or high-conflict ex, this may seem like normal behavior that has carried over into the co-parenting relationship. They may have said bad things about you to the kids before you ever made the decision to leave the marriage, and doing so now is merely a continuation of this.

They can’t get to you

There are times when one parent badmouthing the other seems out of character. Well, divorce is a hard time. It’s painful and messy, and the emotional trauma causes people to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. They may lash out or project their emotions onto others by saying hurtful things. And, if your ex can't get to you directly, they may see your children as the next best target.

They feel threatened by you

Parents sometimes worry about the strength of their bond with their kids after divorce. Your ex may see you as a threat to their parent-child relationship and be jealous of the connection you have with the kids. They may even think dragging you down would help the kids like them more.

Although you don't deserve this type of treatment, understanding your ex's motives can help you determine the best way to handle the situation and, with any luck, prevent it from happening again.

Tips for handling an ex who speaks badly of you

Dealing with an ex who says hurtful things about you in front of your kids is not easy, but there are certain things you can do to address the situation while taking care of your mental health and the health of your children.

Don’t sling it back

Take a deep breath. Although it’s frustrating to find out your ex is talking negatively about you in front of the kids, showing anger and expressing frustration in front of them will only cause more issues. Resist the urge to play the blame game or sling mud back. Let things go.

Model empathy

Let your children know that sometimes when a person is having a difficult time with their feelings of anger or hurt, they say things they don’t mean. Model empathy for your child, and answer any questions they have. This could be a great opportunity for you to ask them about their feelings, discuss their feelings, and connect with your child about how the divorce impacts them.

Read: Understanding and Protecting Kids’ Mental Health in Divorce

(Maybe) discuss it with your ex

After you talk to your children, you may want to reach out to your ex about what you heard. This probably isn’t the best approach if you have a high-conflict ex. However, if you have a (remotely) healthy relationship and there’s any room for discussion, it’s worth at least letting your former spouse know how their words are impacting the kids.

If you talk to your ex, remain calm. You will want to have the conversation in private, preferably at a time when the kids aren’t around. You could simply bring the matter to your ex’s attention and talk about it in terms of how it impacts the kids. In the process, you may discover that it was just a misunderstanding … but you also may help your ex realize the impact of their words on the most important family members: your children.

Note: In this article, we discuss possible scenarios and possible courses of action you might take if you find your ex has spoken ill of you to your kids. However, this article is not a substitute for the professional advice of a mental health professional or a legal professional. Getting professional advice tailored to your unique situation is recommended.

Protecting kids from conflict 

Why is it so important to protect your kids from the truth of your relationship with your ex? Even if they’re teenagers who have had more life experience, witnessing conflict between parents can be emotionally damaging.

Here are some negative outcomes you undoubtedly want to avoid:

  • Your kids feel like they are to blame for your unhappiness and the downfall of your marriage.
  • Your kids become hypervigilant and anxious about the next possible conflict. According to research, this hypervigilance can lead to emotional and social problems in adult life, too.
  • Your kids become anxious, agitated, and depressed due to the verbal (and sometimes physical) aggression they’ve witnessed at home. These negative emotional states affect every part of their lives, from their social successes to their academic achievements.

How can you create a positive environment for your kids during the trying time of divorce – before, during, and after the break-up of their parents? It’s tough, but listening intently and showing empathy can help. In so doing, you model good interpersonal skills that you’d want your children to use in their own lives.

Empowering children to cope 

The thing is, we can’t protect our kids from everything. As a parent, you’ve undoubtedly figured this out. So, how can you empower your child to cope with the distress they feel when your ex speaks negatively about you?

Make yourself approachable. Encourage your child to communicate with you about what is said and how it makes them feel. 

Validate your child’s feelings. For kids who hear one parent belittle another, it can be confusing, angering, depressing, or a combination of these or other emotions. Validate whatever your child is feeling. 

Make empathetic statements. Although you may be seething on the inside, this may be a good time to teach your kids how to have empathy with statements such as, “Mom is having a really hard time right now, and she’s not acting like her true self.” Or, “I know it is hard for you to hear Dad say things like that about me, but I assure you it has nothing to do with anything you did or said. The adults will figure it out. In the meantime, I want to remind you that we both love you very much.”

Getting professional help

Addressing the negative talk with your ex directly is an option in some circumstances. But in other situations, it may not be safe. And even if you’re not endangering yourself by broaching the subject, you’re in a sticky and uncomfortable situation. Not every co-parent is willing to acknowledge, negotiate, or evaluate what they’re doing. 

If you need help dealing with your own emotions post-divorce, there are several things you can do. For instance, you can seek out a peer support group for divorced parents and connect with other people dealing with similar situations. You can also try coping strategies at home such as meditation or journaling to express your emotions calmly.

If your ex continues to say mean-spirited things about you in front of the kids, you can also seek professional help from a number of sources. For example, you could discuss how this issue is impacting your life and mental health with a therapist or life coach. Or, you could talk to an attorney to determine what steps you may need to take for the kids’ well-being. 

Finding a mental health professional

There are many types of therapy available for children in this situation. Which type would be right for your child?

It depends, in large part, on their age, developmental stage, and personal preference. For younger kids, play therapy may be best. In this type of therapy, kids use toys or games rather than verbal statements to convey what they are feeling. 

For an older child and teens, one-on-one therapy may be highly beneficial. A therapist could work with them on coping strategies, self-esteem issues, and other issues that may be pertinent to the child’s world.

Family therapy is another option. Sessions with a family therapist may include one or both parents. The therapist might work with everyone on communication skills, developing a better understanding of family dynamics, and how to deal with changes in the family structure.

You can look for the names of potential therapists at the following websites:

Gathering legal evidence

You may wonder if your ex-partner’s negative comments could have legal ramifications. If you think you might have a legal case, and even if you don’t, it’s a good idea to document any incidents you hear about from your child. Be as comprehensive and factual as you can in your documentation, including dates and times. 

If you suspect that your ex’s behavior could be harming your child’s emotional or physical well-being and that legal recourse is needed, consult an attorney to get their input. If you’re unsure where to start, consider these resources:

  • 5 Steps to Find a Family Divorce Lawyer Near Me
  • Hello Divorce Free 15-minute Info Call

    Bottom line: Your child’s life – and your own physical and emotional well-being – are what matter most. If you can find a way to smooth over the situation and co-parent with your ex in a civil manner, take advantage of that. If you can't, just remember there are resources out there to help you navigate the situation and care for your child.


Study: Arguing Parents Affect Kids’ Brains. The University of Vermont. UVM Today.
Is It Ever Okay to Argue in Front of the Kids? The Gottman Institute.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only, not advice. We recommend seeking professional advice tailored to your specific situation, as this blog only contains general guidance that may not apply to all legal jurisdictions or individual circumstances.

Divorce Content Specialist
Communication, Mediation, Relationships, Divorce Insights
A content writer and editor for several digital publications and businesses, including Make Tech Easier, How-To Geek, and Clean Email.