Helping Children Cope With Divorce

If you’re going through a divorce, you probably have concerns about its effect on your children. It can be an incredibly difficult time for children.

Their emotions may go through various stages and change.  Your child might feel confused, sad, guilty, angry, or worried about what will happen to them. The way you handle the changes will be critical to the well-being of your child. 

What Should You Tell Your Children About Your Divorce/Separation?

Plan how to tell the children. Ideally, both parents should do it together. Think of a good place and time to talk. Be honest, but also consider the ages of your children when you decide how much to tell them.

Younger children require less detail while older ones may ask for additional information.

Reassure the children that you still love them and that you will both go on caring for them. Let them know that they will have numerous opportunities to spend time with both of their parents.

Be very clear that your children aren’t the cause of your separation. Young children, particularly, may worry that they are responsible for the divorce or separation.

Explain that it is actually an adult problem and there was nothing that the children could have done to prevent it. It is also important for them to know that there’s nothing they could have done to change things. Help them understand that the divorce is final.

Encourage the children to be open about their feelings. Listen carefully when they talk and avoid interrupting them. Children may have trouble expressing their feelings, which is why you need to be patient.

While it might be hard, you should let them be honest about their concerns and fears. Answer questions that your child might have as honestly as you are able to.

If you discover that your child is not comfortable talking to you about the divorce/separation, encourage them to find someone they can trust such as a doctor, social worker, psychologist, or even another member of the family.

Tell the children only what they need to know. Avoid arguing or discussing adult decisions in front of the children, like how to reduce child maintenance payments.

You shouldn’t involve them in any meetings that you have with your lawyer or other parties involved with the divorce or separation.

What Can You Do to Make the Transition Easier?

You should first discuss visitation arrangements with your fellow parent before suggesting a plan to the children.

After finalizing your plans, have open discussions about the way living arrangements will change. It is important to be clear about which parent the children will be living with and when.

It is their right to know the decisions being made on their behalf. Keep in mind that plans might have to change once the children are older. 

Living arrangements should be discussed with a teen or older child and you should be ready to respect their feelings about where they would like to live.

Keep routines as normal as possible. Children tend to feel more confident and safer if they know what to expect. Work with the other parent to create common routines to be followed in both households.

If you have more than one child, spend quality time alone with each one.

Avoid speaking negatively about your fellow parent to the children, friends, or extended family. If you’re struggling with your own emotions and feelings, find a counselor or supportive friend to talk to.

You might find it helpful to set some “ground rules” when talking with your fellow parent.

Children might feel like they are alone in the situation. If possible, seek out other families with “two homes” so that your children may see that they are not the only ones whose parents live separately.

Be polite when the children are either picked up or dropped off. If you’re reassuring and loving, it can help them cope better with the transition.

Let your child talk to the other parent whenever they need to. Try showing interest in the time the children spend with your fellow parent. Avoid suggesting with actions or words that your child is disloyal if they enjoy time away from you.

Respect reasonable limits your fellow parent sets. Avoid undermining the other parent’s authority or reversing any decision that he/she has made. Discuss discipline and rules with the other parent to ensure consistency across both households.

Communicate with the other parent directly without expecting your children to serve as messengers. Children should not be expected to provide you with information about the other parent’s friends, activities, or income.

Your children might feel like their relationship with the extended family, such as uncles and aunts, is also changing. Recognize such feelings and provide plenty of opportunities to maintain those connections.

Keep other important adults in the life of your children such as coaches, child care providers, or teachers, informed about what is happening so that they can watch out for any warning signs that your child is having trouble coping.

Share important school and medical information with your fellow parent. Try attending appointments and meetings together so that you can be both informed.

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