Helping Children Survive Divorce

For children, divorce can be stressful, sad, and confusing. In all ages, kids may feel uncertain or angry at the prospect of mom and dad splitting up. It’s normal for you to feel uncertain about how to give your children the right support. There are many ways to help your kids adjust. Your patience, reassurance, and time to listen can minimize tension while they are learning to cope with the changes. By providing routine you remind them they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. And if you can maintain a working relationship with your ex, you avoid forcing them to watch you and your ex in conflict.

What does your child want and need? For both of you to stay involved in their life. Encourage your spouse to write letters to your children, make phone calls, and ask questions. When you don’t allow them to stay involved your children begin to feel unimportant and forgotten. Stop fighting and work hard to get along. When you fight about your children they think they did something wrong and feel guilty. Make it okay for your children to continue to love you both. Please support them and the time they spend with each of you. If you act jealous or upset you may be forcing your children to choose sides. Do not make your child become your mediator. You should be willing to communicate with your spouse directly and not through your children. Say only nice things about your spouse to you children or don’t say anything at all.

When it comes to telling your kids about your divorce, many parents freeze up. Make the conversation a little easier on both yourself and your children by preparing significantly before you sit down to talk. If you can anticipate tough questions, deal with your own anxieties ahead of time, and plan carefully what you’ll be telling them, you will be better equipped to help your children handle the news. Difficult as it may be, try to strike an empathetic tone and address the most important points right up front. Give your children the benefit of an honest—but kid-friendly—explanation. Tell the truth, say “I love you”, and address the inevitable changes they will be facing to minimize devastating surprises.

It’s vital to be honest with your kids, but without being critical of your spouse. This can be divorceespecially difficult when there have been hurtful events, such as infidelity, but with a little diplomacy, you can avoid playing the blame game. Present a united front.As much as you can, try to agree in advance on an explanation for your separation or divorce—and stick to it. Make plans to talk with your children before any changes in the living arrangements occur. And plan to talk when your spouse is present, if possible. Be respectful of your spouse when giving the reasons for the separation.

Support your children by helping them express emotions, and commit to truly listening to these feelings without getting defensive. Your next job is reassurance—assuaging fears, straightening misunderstandings, and showing your unconditional love. The bottom line: kids need to know that your divorce isn’t their fault.

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