Dear Dr. Jann: This last weekend it took me a half hour to get my son out of the house while his dad waited in the car. He was in tears, but he went. He left his phone in his room and after he was gone I checked his texts. The last one was from his dad said, “Tell your bitch mother I’m here to pick you up.” This explains a lot. Truth is, I’m really surprised. His father has always been a very good father. What do I do?

Dr. Jann: Since you tell me he’s been a good father, he probably doesn’t realize what badmouthing the other parent does to a child. He could just be kidding around, being sarcastic and not realize that badmouthing you tears his child up inside. I’ve had a parent tell me, “Come on, it’s just words. It’s not like I beat him. He’ll get over it.”

Unfortunately, words linger just as long as bruises (maybe longer) — and badmouthing often backfires. You can see first hand, rather than side with dad, your son is balking at spending time with him. He is probably afraid to tell dad to stop so he just refuses to go. It will get worse if it doesn’t stop. Bottom line, badmouthing puts kids right in the middle of the two people they love the most. They can’t choose, so they don’t. They retreat.

If dad is as attentive as you have inferred, education is the answer. Show him this article. Talk to him — don’t attack or blame, just explain what his badmouthing does to your child. Children know they are half mom and half dad. You put down the other parent, you are attacking their own DNA. A child takes it very personally.

If the badmouthing doesn’t stop, that text is proof it’s going on. Ongoing badmouthing of the other parent has been found to be emotional abuse and if CPS or the courts get involved, time with his child can be adjusted. It’s a real eye opener when an attentive parent hears that time with him or her is not in their child’s best interest. Badmouthing is serious business. Dad needs to understand this and stop immediately.