Tips for Parents: Helping Children Navigate a Divorce

July 23rd, 2020 by

What is the best way to help your child get through a divorce and maintain that after a divorce? Every situation and every family is different.  Children cope with divorce and separation differently; with hurts, hopes, reliefs, and grief unique to him or her.  Parents can help their children cope with divorce by understanding the differences in how children of different ages emotionally process this difficult situation. Regardless of age, a child must manage emotions when confronted with the news that their parents are splitting up, and dealing with these emotions may be hard.  Be prepared for them to be upset, confused, or even have no reaction at all.  

Reinforce your love for the child and your commitment to care for them regardless of their reaction. Provide plenty of reassurance to young children that they are loved and protected by their parents.  Young children thrive on routine, so avoid disrupting his or her schedule as much as possible. Encourage kids to manage their feelings, whether they are positive or negative about what’s happening.  If you encourage kids to share their feelings this will let them express what they are feeling inside. 

Kids may struggle with a divorce for some time.  Depending on their age and development, their response to the change in circumstances will vary. Some kids may not have words, while some may act out while some become depressed.  Some school-aged kids’ grades may drop or they may lose interest in activities.  Younger children’s feelings are often expressed during their playtime and you may find that some children may have difficulty sleeping.  Children, much like adults, react to every situation differently. As a parent going through or having gone through a divorce, you are feeling your own emotions and reactions and your child(ren), may be dealing with the change in similar, or drastically different ways. 

Strive to establish open communication with kids and show healthy coping skills to help reduce the stress and trouble they have down the road. While communicating with your ex-spouse might be one of the hardest things to do, always try to take the high road.  Never say bad things about your partner in front of your kids, or within earshot – kids pick up on these things. Derogatory statements also put your child in a tough spot and may make them feel like they have to take sides or listen to negative things being said about one of their parents.  

Parenting is a tough job, regardless of the dynamic and while it may seem difficult at times, divorced parents can succeed at co-parenting.  Remember to keep adult conversations, visible conflict, heated discussion, and legal talk out of the child’s ears and only between adults. Children are usually sponges and will absorb words faster than we realize (except when it’s time for them to do a task and the selective hearing kicks in…). Try to be kind and patient with each other and your children.  Never put your child in a position that they have to pick sides. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and emotions. Your child’s relationship now with the other parent will influence your child’s relationship with them in the future.    Remember divorce is not an event, it’s a process.  

If you keep in mind some of the dos and don’ts listed above you can help your child navigate through a very tough period.  

Written by Jennifer S. Nolen

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