How to Help Children Cope with a Divorce

Divorce may be one of the worst moments in your life, and it will impact everything happening in yours and your children’s lives. Many children will experience the pain, frustration, stress, and loss that divorce brings to their lives.  While kids are very resilient, they need help adjusting to a new life when their parents are separated. There are many things that parents can do to help their children with the divorce process. Often, how parents deal during the divorce impacts how children handle their loss.

When you break the news of the divorce or separation, keep in mind how you approach the subject. Tell them honestly and simply what is happening. When telling your children about the divorce, never say anything detrimental about the spouse; gently explain that it is the best thing to do for you and your spouse.  Answer their questions and help them to understand as best as possible. Reassure them that they did not do anything that lead to the divorce. Children will often blame themselves during the divorce process. They may then try to negotiate with you or your spouse about things they could change that would keep the family intact. As simply as possible, let them know that they aren’t in any way responsible for this divorce. Reassure them with a discussion that they did not do anything that caused the divorce, and then calm them with a discussion about their feelings regarding the separation.

Expect a mix of emotions, from depression to anger to denial and everything in between. Children are grieving the loss of their family. While grief may not be a perfect example, it does help to remember to understand the potential emotions your children are feeling. Some typical stages of grief include anger, depression, denial, bargaining, and acceptance, though not everyone will experience these stages or go through them in a particular order or length of time. Examples include anger at their parents for the divorce, sadness about not being able to see a particular parent as often, bargaining by asking their parents what they can do to keep the family together, denial in refusing to believe or understand that the divorce is happening, and finally acceptance that the separation is taking place. Be accepting of any feelings that your children have, allow them to have their feelings, and help them to understand that it is ok to feel upset and hurt because of what is happening. Talking to them, answering questions, and being accepting will go a long way towards them coping well with this transition in their lives.

Keep your children out of your fight with your spouse. Do not speak badly about your spouse or discuss any legal/financial matters in front of your children. Discussing legal and financial affairs often serves to confuse your children about what is happening even further, making their adjustment period even harder to deal with. Particularly do not force your children to choose sides. Choosing sides can backfire and create resentments and difficulties for everyone, particularly when you need to be on the same page as your ex-spouse about a discipline issue. Minimizing the disruption to your child’s routines and making transitions and changes as routine as possible will help them with the adjustment process.

Get help dealing with your own painful feelings about the divorce. If you’re able to adjust, then your kids will be more likely to do so. There are many different groups and programs aimed at helping people deal with their divorce, such as Divorce Care and Divorce Care for Kids. Be patient with yourself and your children, because this is not an easy process. There will be both good and bad days: but, by being patient, you will make it easier for your children, and yourself. Spend quality time interacting with your kids and help them to adjust. Continue to reiterate that they are special to you as you go through the divorce process.

Recognize stress that your kids display. Consult your kids’ teachers, doctor, or a child therapist for guidance for handling specific problems you’re concerned about. Feeling hurt and or overwhelmed by your divorce is not a reason to confide in your children. This will only cause confusion and bad feelings toward you or your spouse. For help sorting through your own feelings, you may wish to think about joining a divorce support group or seeking counseling. If you and your spouse need assistance with reaching decisions about your children during or after the divorce, then consider using the services of a family or divorce mediator.

Your kids may likewise benefit from counseling, particularly if they have behavioral issues, show signs of depression, or have trouble adjusting to the divorce after the first year. You can help your children to understand what has happened by being honest and providing reassurance.

Related Articles:
Moving on – Dating – New Partners – What About My Children?
Helping Your Child with Anxiety
Five Rights Your Children Should Have in Your Divorce

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Madison

    January 5th, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    There is never any easy way to break the news of a divorce to a child but sometimes just telling the truth is going to be the best course to take. That does not mean that you have to be brutally honest and give them all of the details why, but you don’t have to sugar coat things either. But I do think that it is nice to let them know that you are going to do your best to minimize the changes that he or she is going to feel, and to take into consideration that this is a huge thing in their lives, just like it is in yours. And remember that you are not the only one hurting over this.

  • robin

    January 5th, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    no matter what the reason for divorce is,its not pleasant separating.and its not a great time for the kids either.its not hard to understand that both partners will be under a lot of stress but they still need to shield the kids from the divorce proceedings and everything it affects.

    some pointers like you have given here can be immensely helpful to any parent who is committed to protect his or her is a very important thing to do too.such things need to be explained to people going through such a situation,either by family,friends or counselor,someone has to convey.


    January 5th, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    Another thing I thought about was giving the children enough time to cope with the fact that the parents are undergoing a divorce and not just surprising them.

    Somebody I know and his former wife did this to their kids. They had issues, decided to get separated but did not tell anything about it to the kids until a few days before they actually moved homes! This led to the kids going through a lot of stress and whatnot, they’re just kids for heaven’s sake!

  • emmanuel

    January 6th, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    haven’t observed divorces closely anytime but I would say sending the children away for a few weeks in cases of conflict during a divorce would be a good idea.

  • Jeffrey S Gallup LPC

    January 6th, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    Breaking the news to children and giving them enough time to process and adapt to the changes goes a long ways towards making it easier for them to adjust. If nothing else when going through a divorce put yourself in your child’s shoes for a minute and think about how they are going to react and how they would want to find out about your divorce.

  • Catina

    January 9th, 2012 at 4:54 PM

    There can be little news that could be more devastating to a child than hearing that the parents are getting a divorce. I can’t even mention the word in my own house without the kids falling to pieces. It turns their worlds upside own, and I think that a lot of couples just expect the kids to be nonchalant and ok with it from the get go. Most children are going to need a lot of time to process this change in the home and you are going to have to do a lot of hand holding and reassuring along the way.

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