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.
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