When parents are going through a divorce, one of their biggest priorities is making sure their children get the emotional support they need. Ideally, parents would like to minimize the impact of the divorce as much as possible. In order to make the divorce easier on the children, parents should recognize how divorce commonly affects kids, and take the necessary steps to make the process as painless as possible.
Research on children and divorce typically show that kids will experience a sense of loss. This feeling of loss can manifest in a variety of different ways, depending on several factors. For instance, younger children may show signs of regression in areas such as toilet training, or they may throw more tantrums. Older children and teens tend to experience their loss as depression, rebellion, or other changes to their sleeping or eating habits. Whatever the child’s experience is, parents play a huge part in easing their child’s pain.
No matter what your child’s age is, the most important thing to do is to be cooperative and non-confrontational, and to continually ensure your child that you love them and that they will always have two parents. There are several other ways to properly communicate with your child while you are reassuring them.
First of all, try not to vent to your child about your own frustrations regarding the divorce. It is fine to be open and honest about your feelings, and it may make your child comfortable enough to open up about how they feel. However, try not to stress your child out with details about your own difficulties. Even years after the divorce is finalized, make sure you are always available to talk about it with your children when they feel the need.
Another important thing to do is to make sure you don’t put your children in the middle. It can be very stressful for your child if you try to use them as a messenger between you and your ex, or as a negotiator in the divorce. Likewise, don’t confide in your child about your negative feelings towards your ex. Hearing bad things about their other parent can be confusing and stressful, and may make them feel guilty for loving that parent. No matter how you feel, never make your child feel as if they have a bad parent.
Divorce can be especially hard on children (even adult children) on holidays and other special events, since they may be sad and angry about losing certain family rituals. Try to be flexible about creating new family traditions that focus on fun and building relationships.
It is also always comforting for a child if they are familiar with practical matters, such as where they will sleep and who will pick them up from school. Children thrive on routine, so try to establish a regular schedule with your ex as soon as possible. It may be helpful to write out a parenting plan that includes guidelines for raising your children that may not have been covered in the custody terms. A parenting plan could include responsibilities for medical and dental care, the specific times the children spend with each parent, and how to handle schooling, discipline, and extracurricular activities. For help on creating a parenting plan with your ex, consider using a mediator.
No matter what, always remain vigilant to how your child is processing the divorce. Don’t hesitate to encourage your child to see a counselor if they need additional help.