How to Help Your Child Through Divorce

Divorce can be a painful and confusing time in a family’s life. It’s normal for children to experience a roller coaster of emotions — from sadness, abandonment, loss, hurt and anger, to confusion, and even guilt.  Every child manages in her own way and heals at her own pace. However, there are ways parents can help make coping during this difficult period of transition a little easier.

  1. Do take good care of yourself first. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, get counseling.  Children benefit most from emotionally stable parents.  Make nurturing yourself and healing yourself your highest priority.  By practicing self – care, parents are more equipped to respond to difficulties their children might be experiencing.
  2. Don’t make your child your surrogate “spouse,” emotional confidante, “best friend,” constant social companion, or in-house therapist. It is important to maintain appropriate boundaries.  If you are not sure what these boundaries need to be in your circumstance, you may want to seek guidance from a child therapist.
  3. Do maintain as much consistency as possible in daily schedules, bedtimes, curfews, routine, and discipline. Help your kids adjust to change by providing as much stability and structure as possible in their daily lives. Remember that establishing structure and continuity doesn’t mean that you need rigid schedules or that mom and dad’s routines need to be the same. But creating some regular routines at each household will provide your kids with a sense of calmness and stability.
  4. Don’t badmouth the other parent.  It hurts your children when they hear one of their parents put down the other. This is true even if your child does not say anything about it. With rare exceptions, children innately feel that they are part of both parents. When you put down their other parent, your children are likely to interpret it as a put-down of part of them. When both parents are guilty of this behavior, it can create a great confusion along with a sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem.
  5. Do encourage your children to open up; don’t be upset that they are upset, just listen, affirm, encourage and validate. Communication is key. Give your child ample opportunity to talk about how she’s feeling and to ask questions about the changes that are happening in the family.  Kids need to know that their feelings are normal, and that in time, they will feel better. This may be the time to seek professional help for your child.
  6. Do be discreet about your dating life. If you’re not getting remarried or in a relationship, it’s best to keep your dating life separate.  The primary reason is because children form attachments. If the relationship doesn’t pan out and that person disappears, then the child experiences another loss.  In addition, introducing your child to every new person you begin to date can be confusing and upsetting.
  7. Do advise your child’s school. Teachers can be incredibly valuable allies, so if you’re comfortable doing so, let them know about the divorce.  Your child’s teachers can tell you how they think your child is doing socially and emotionally as well as academically.  If your child exhibits uncharacteristic behaviors such as acting out, withdrawal or inability to concentrate, teachers may be able to make helpful recommendations.
  8. Do put your child first. During a divorce, interacting with your spouse might be the last thing you want to do — but it’s important. Your child needs both of you. Work out custody arrangements and other details with your child’s best interests in mind. This will mean putting your child’s needs ahead of your own wishes or desires.
  9. Don’t make your child the messenger. Too many parents attempt to communicate through their children, which causes undue emotional stress on them and forces them to negotiate a situation their own parents could not handle. Email is an excellent tool for communicating with your ex-spouse. It allows you to specifically discuss the practicalities of raising your child without detouring into negative areas and opening old wounds. It also provides a recorded message so parents tend to be more careful when using email.
  10. Do remind your children that both you and your former spouse love them very much. It is important to your children’s mental health that they maintain a healthy relationship as possible with both you and your spouse.

Now may be a good time to seek counseling.  A mental health professional can provide you with advice on how to help your child cope with the divorce, and can work with your child to help him or her understand the divorce and the life changes that the child may be experiencing.

The information above was distilled from an excellent article by Dina Brooks. The entire article can be found at https://www.education.com/magazine/article/coping-divorce/.

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