Helping children with divorce
Divorce, or any breakup, is never easy but becomes more difficult when kids are involved.
In a relationship with a lot of conflict, dissolving a relationship is often a healthier option. When parents stay together in an angry relationship with persistent disagreements and criticisms, children will often grow up and have similar relationships as adults. Children become what they know and experience in childhood.
Michigan State University Extension offers the following possibilities in helping your child with a divorce.
Before a divorce
- If possible, both parents should be there when breaking the news.
- Practice what you will say so you don’t get upset or angry and say things you will regret or are harmful to the relationship with the other parent.
- When letting children know about a divorce, speak honestly and simply. It is not necessary to tell them inappropriate details that typically are associated with divorce.
- The Mayo Clinic suggests reassuring your child that the divorce is only between adults.
- Tell your child they did nothing wrong and let others who interact with your child know as well what is happening. This includes but not limited to coaches, school counselors, teachers and doctors.
During a divorce
- Offer reassurance, hope and a sense of stability. Your child will need you now more than ever before.
- According to Isolina Ricci, PhD and family therapist, allow children to love both parents without conflict and having to pick sides (see Helping your Child Through a Divorce from KidsHealth).
- Allow your child access to both parents without fear of losing either.
- At first, the things that will concern your child will be concrete things such as living arrangements, will they need to change schools and who will take them to piano lessons and soccer. It is enough for them to understand what will change in their daily routine and what will not. Kids thrive in environments with predictability, stability and routines.
After a divorce
- At this time, your child’s needs and the transition to a new living arrangement and lifestyle is most important.
- While it may seem unbearable to communicate with your ex-spouse, the children’s needs must come first.
- Do not make sudden changes. Special rules, treats and accommodations because you feel guilty about the divorce will only cause stress to the child (see Kids Coping with Divorce by WebMD).
Divorce is never easy. Seek help from a counselor, support group, others who have gone through similar situations, or online resources will help you and your child during this difficult time. Most importantly, do not lean on your child for support, no matter how old they are. Watch for changes to appetite, changes to sleep patterns and difficulties with friends as a sign that your child may need outside support to cope. Doing so will allow them to transition smoothly and have healthy relationships in the future.