Helping Your Children Cope With Divorce
As a parent looking for ways of helping your children cope with divorce, reassure yourself that they already have the greatest help of all – a parent who cares. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Many divorcing parents are so wrapped up in their own emotions that they neglect to help their children cope with divorce.
When the people that children love most are not interested in helping them deal with the emotional effects of divorce, natural anxieties and fears can develop into significant and often long-term problems. However, when children do get the help they need, they may have their ups, downs and difficulties but they will emerge as healthy – and often healthier – young people.
So what are the best ways to help your children cope with divorce?
Again, half the battle is won because you care. For the rest, follow these simple tips, identified by research as the most effective ways to minimize the effects of divorce on children and brighten their outlook on the future.
Bring divorce into the open
Being open at all times is a golden rule for helping your children cope with divorce. Secrecy breeds fear and mistrust at a time when children need to feel secure. Your children will quickly sense, if they haven’t already, that something is “wrong.”
It is important to bring the situation into the open as soon as possible and talk to your children about divorce. It will be difficult but children can cope with a single reality – even divorce – far more effectively than numerous imaginary fears.
Keep it simple
To cope with divorce, children need to understand divorce. Stick to simple, basic facts and use age-appropriate language. Attempting to explain the dynamics of adult relationships – and why they end – only muddies the waters with more information than they can understand or absorb.
How do I tell the kids about the divorce?
Create-a-Storybook™ is a unique and positive way to explain your divorce to your children. Designed by divorce and mediation therapists with step-by-step instructions, expert advice and templates for ages 5 to 10, and 10 to 15. Read a Review or Visit Create-a-Storybook™
Don’t overestimate your child’s maturity
Be careful not to overestimate how well an older child can cope with divorce. Eager to seem “grown up,” older children can be reluctant to seek help and miss out on receiving the support and reassurance they really need. Provide regular reminders that you are available – a subtle way of letting them know it is ok to need to help. For confidential talk and advice, turn to adult friends and family, not your teenage children.
Another key to helping your children cope with divorce is to keep day-to-day life on track as far as possible. Your children may want to skip school, feign sickness and so on. Allow them some leeway – this is an unusual time – but draw a line.
Your children must continue to be exposed to a variety of people and situations rather than dwelling in an atmosphere dominated by your divorce. And by maintaining familiar habits and routines, the effects of divorce won’t seem so drastic after all.
Set a limit on changes
Children have difficulty coping with the effects of divorce – change – rather than divorce itself. From a child’s point of view, if one thing changes perhaps everything will change. Perhaps they will have to move to a different school, lose their favorite pet, never get to play in their favorite park again…
When talking about divorce with your children, balance explanations of things that are going to change with reassuring reminders of all the things that will stay the same.
Set a good example of coping with divorce
One of the most important things that you and your spouse can do in terms of helping your children cope with divorce is to set a good example. If it is quite obvious that you can’t cope – the superhero parent – they will feel it is impossible.
So, by helping yourself to cope with divorce you will be helping your children too. Enlist the help of friends and family so that you can take time out – and take strong emotions out of sight – whenever you feel particularly stressed or upset.
Respect your children’s feelings for your spouse
One of the least helpful – and indeed damaging – things that divorcing parents can do is vent negative feelings about each other, making children feel that they are expected to take sides. Children simply cannot cope with the emotional confusion and trauma this causes.
Whatever you really feel for each other, it is essential that you and your spouse show respect for each other. Children who feel free to love both parents, openly and without fear of disapproval, cope well with divorce.
Eliminate false hopes for reconciliation
You will not be helping your children to cope with divorce if you allow them to cling to the hope that you and your spouse will change your minds. Emphasize to your children how much time and thought has gone into your decision to divorce.
If the decision to divorce was made by your spouse and it is difficult for you to accept, understand how important it is that your children understand that it is inevitable. This will help them (and perhaps you too) avoid a painful and emotionally damaging cycle of hope and disappointment.
Work with your spouse
As you can see, wherever possible you and your soon-to-be ex need to work together in terms of helping your children cope with divorce, if nothing else. By showing a united and mutually-respectful front, your children will gain a sense of optimism regarding life after divorce.
But there are benefits for you too. You will both learn an important lesson – that despite everything, you can communicate, agree and behave like civilized adults. And less conflict will in turn be another way of helping your children cope with divorce.
Copyright 2007 Caroline Mackenzie
Filed under: Parenting During Divorce