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Posted March 4th, 2014

Helping Children Deal With Divorce

 

The decision to end a marriage is a difficult one that takes a huge emotional toll on the adults involved. When there are children, the impact and consequences of divorce increase significantly. How a child reacts to the separation of his or her parents varies, often dependent on age. Typically, children will feel some combination of fear, anger, and even guilt over their parents’ separation. Because of the impact and disruption that divorce has on children, parents must make the right steps in how they interact with their kids during this time.

How to Tell Them

Informing children of the intent to divorce is a critical first step in helping them cope with such a life-altering event. How parents go about this will vary according to the age of the children, and their ability to understand what is happening. Regardless of age, however, children should be told about the divorce as soon as possible following the decision to separate. Ideally both parents will come together to talk with their children and break the news. They should be in agreement about what they will and will not say in efforts to avoid making the situation worse. Kids should be made to understand that the divorce will be final, and that they are loved by their parents even if they are no longer living with both.

There is a good chance that preteens and teenagers know someone whose parents have divorced. For them, parents may be more direct than with younger children. Parents should encourage questions, and answer them as honestly as possible. They should not, however, go into the exact details of why they are divorcing. Elementary school children will also need reassurances that they are not responsible. Parents will want to talk about ways that the child will continue to spend time with both of his or her parents and how their needs will continue to be met. Children who have not yet reached elementary school and children who are in the early grades my not fully grasp what it means to divorce. When children are this young, parents may tell them about the divorce by explaining that they (the parents) will no longer be living together in the same house.

Provide Stability and Structure

Stability and structure are two of the most important things that any child needs. They provide a sense of safety and a feeling of being cared for. Unfortunately, divorce removes both of these, and may leave children feeling as if their lives are suddenly unstable. In some instances, children may also feel abandoned by one parent. One of the first ways to stabilize a child is set up a visitation schedule and stick with it. Every day routines are also a way to provide kids with a sense of stability and comfort. Routines can be anything from eating dinner or going to bed at a certain time, to performing a certain set of chores. There should also be minimal change in how they are treated. They should not be excessively coddled or scolded; however, household rules should be upheld. The decision to co-parent is one way to provide kids with a sense of stability. People who co-parent remain friends for the sake of their children and celebrate holidays and important events. Co-parents also continue to make important decisions together.

Stay Civil with Your Ex

Not only are divorces difficult, but for many they are also extremely volatile. This means that there are often a lot of accusations, unkind words, and/or yelling between separated individuals. Conflicts and abusive behavior are very upsetting to children who are already in a fragile state due to the divorce. Fighting can frighten a child and may lead them to believe that they must choose a side, or that they will permanently lose a parent. This type of behavior can, as a result, lead to both emotional and behavioral problems. To avoid this, parents should agree not to discuss problems around their children. Parents should make a conscious effort not to fight or discuss the divorce or any problems in front their kids. They should speak with respect and consideration to one another and keep the well-being of their children in mind. By remaining civil, they will be able to best meet the needs of their kids when making important decisions such as child custody and visitation.

Seek Professional Help if Needed

In some instances parents may be unable to successfully help their children cope with divorce. Even after several months have passed, children, in these cases, may begin to act out in negative ways that include anger, depression, or anxiety. Sleeplessness, decreased grades in school, fights, withdrawal, or self-injury are all signs that parents should keep a watch for. To help their children, the parents will likely need to seek the help of professionals such as a pediatric psychologist, therapist or counselor. Often it is necessary to see the child’s pediatrician for a referral.

Take Care of Yourself

While it is important to think of the needs of one’s children during and after a divorce, it is equally important to take care of oneself. A person who is in poor physical and mental shape will find that it is difficult to properly provide for the needs of their children. Exercise, healthy eating, and plenty of rest will keep the body healthy and the mind sharp and aware. To be in the best emotional shape possible, parents should turn to loved ones for support by visiting and talking to friends and family members. Keeping a journal is also a helpful way to express oneself and release pent-up feelings about the divorce. Some adults may find it difficult to cope with their feelings regarding the divorce. There are a number of books available that may prove helpful, such as Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein and Joan B. Kelly. In severe cases, however, the help of a professional psychiatrist or therapist may be necessary to help one successfully cope with their divorce.

Financially, parents may find themselves in a situation where there is less money due to the divorce. When faced with this situation, creating and living within the boundaries of a budget often proves beneficial. People should also do their homework to learn what they are potentially eligible for financially. Researching property value and state laws regarding the division of assets is also important.

Additional Resources

 

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