by: Julia Rodgers
While divorce is difficult for everyone, it often hits children particularly hard. Children have a unique ability to internalize things and may often feel like they are somehow to blame for the divorce. Parents may spur these thoughts when they argue about things related to the children, such as parenting time, support issues, or their children’s activities. While divorce is never easy, there are ways that parents can make the process better for their kids. Studies show that children are able to move on from divorce and lead successful, happy lives with their own successful marriages. However, the ability and timing of when they can do these things often depends largely on the actions and cooperation of their parents[i]. Some ways to ease the process of divorce for children include:
1. Explain that It’s not their Fault
When custody and visitation are in dispute during a divorce, it can be easy for children to feel like the divorce is all their fault. It is critical to explain to children that this is not true. While you do not have to get into sordid details about the divorce, you can explain things in an age-appropriate way[ii]. If you and your spouse are able to have this conversation together, you can provide a united front. However, if that is not possible, you can each explain this important information separately and in a way that the message is consistent.
2. Be Honest, but Not Too Honest
While it is important to explain to your children what is happening, it is not alright to bad mouth your spouse. Similarly, although you should reassure your children that they will be safe and taken care of, you should not make promises that you can’t keep, such as saying that everything will be the same. Let your children know what changes to expect , and when, so that they can anticipate and emotionally prepare for them. If you plan to move to a new home, explain this to them. If you may have to return to work, let them know how this may change their daily schedule, and yours. If upcoming vacations or holidays will be spent with one parent or another, explain this to them well in advance, and never on the cusp of an event. Allow your children ample time to discuss these changes with you, and ask questions. Allowing your children the opportunity to express their concerns, without judgment, will help them process these major life changes.
3. Tell Them They Matter
Explain to your children that they are still your number one priority. It is important during this difficult time that your children know and feel that they are loved. Express this often. Try to have some one-on-one time with each child to make them feel special. Providing uninterrupted love and support is key to helping children cope with divorce.
[i] Butler, I., Scanlan, L., Robinson, M., Douglas, G., & Murch, M. (2002). Children's Involvement in their Parents' Divorce: Implications for Practice. Children & Society , 16, 89-102. doi:10.1002/CHI.702
[ii] Butler, I., Scanlan, L., Robinson, M., Douglas, G., & Murch, M. (2002). Children's Involvement in their Parents' Divorce: Implications for Practice. Children & Society , 17, 89-102. doi:10.1002/CHI.702
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