Children and Divorce

Post by: Sandra Wasserman
in Blog
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Helping your kids cope with the effects of separation and divorce

As parents, it is normal to feel uncertain about how to provide your child the right support through your divorce or separation during a time that is already unsettling for the parents, however, there are many ways you can help your child adjust to separation or divorce.  Your patience, reassurance, and listening ear can minimize tension as children learn to cope with new circumstances.  By providing routines, kids get the message that they can rely on you for stability and structure which is essential for the whole family.  If you can maintain a working relationship with their other parents, you can help kids avoid the stress that comes with watching parents in conflict.  

To help your children i the beginning, if possible have both parents present when telling the children about the divorce.  Discuss what you will tell the children before hand, also keep the explanations simple and avoid blame. Use general statements such as Mom or Dad can't live together anymore, or Mom and Dad have decided we would be happier living in different homes.  

  • Tell your children that the divorce is not their fault.  Children need to understand the decision to divorce had nothing to do with them or their behavior.  Kids should also know that there is nothing they can do to change what is happening in the family, nor is it their responsibility to fix the family.  
  • Let your children know that you love them, and help them understand that the love shared between a parent ad child is different than the love shared between a husband and wife.  Kids need to know that the love you have for them will last forever.
  • Reinforce that it is okay for the children to love both mom and dad.  Children should not feel like they have to take sides or worry about losing the love of either parent.
  • Listen to your children and support their right to have feelings about what is happening in their lives.  Help them find safe and healthy ways to express those feelings.

Adjustment factors affect how children are able to cope with divorce.  Researches have estimated that the period of adjustment for families can range anywhere from one to three years, and sometimes even as long as five depending on the circumstances surrounding the divorce.  The following are factors that may affect the adjustment period:

  • Level of conflict between parents
  • Information children are given regarding the divorce 
  • level of support available to the children
  • the personality and ability of each child to deal with stress can have an impact on how quickly they adjust
  • Age and developmental level of children

One of the most important skills a parent can have is being a good listener.  While it sounds simple, many parents have a difficult time putting it into practice, especially since during a divorce, they may be feeling emotionally drained.  If you can, listen to your child without trying to fix, judge, criticize or change their feelings. 

As parents, we have a strong desire to spare our children from unpleasant, hurtful, or difficult situations.  Since divorce can stir up a lot of those experiences, we may try to shield our children by "fixing" the problem, or trying to convince them that they really don't feel that way.  Unfortunately, our good intentions can be damaging when children are not allowed the opportunity to solve their own problems or have their feelings acknowledged.  They are deprived of building both self-esteem and self-confidence, and it may be difficult for children to identify how they feel if they never receive validation of certain feelings.

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