Helping Children Cope with Divorce
Divorce requires adjustment for all involved persons, but the adjustment may be particularly difficult for children. There are ways adults can help children adjust. At the top of the list is for the divorcing parents to resolve their own emotional issues as quickly as possible so they can be emotionally available to their children. Children who experience a high level of hostility between divorcing parents almost always have a harder time adjusting. For this reason, parents need to work at reducing that conflict for the sake of the children.
Parents also need to understand that their children will be deeply hurt by the news of divorce. There is no way to avoid this. Love, patience and understanding from both parents will go a long way toward helping them adjust.
Good communication with your children is important. Explain as much as possible about the situation and give them information about what the future will be like such as:
- Where they will live.
- Where they will go to school.
- When they may see the other parent.
Allow children to express their feelings. Reading to children helps them identify and work through their feelings. Children also need to be reassured that the divorce was not their fault.
Support the child's love of and relationship with the other parent and the extended family. Children need ongoing contact with both parents. Try to be positive, or at least neutral about the other parent. They need to know it is still okay to love both parents. Children often feel "caught in the middle" when they are expected to carry messages, make phone calls, collect child support, or spy on the other parent. Don't expect children to carry out these roles.
Parents sometimes become overly permissive with children out of a sense of guilt or due to a lack of energy for parenting. Limits provide security and boundaries for children and need to be consistently enforced by both parents.
A stable environment is one factor that has a strong influence on how children adjust to divorce. If possible, keep their daily routines as free of change as possible. This includes school, childcare, living situations, finances, friends and family.
Seek professional counseling if needed. This is especially important when children seem to be having difficulty adjusting or exhibit stress related behavior longer than two or three months. It is a sign of strong families to be able to identify a problem and to seek help in solving it.
You may also be interested in Effects of Divorce on Children.
Allen, R., Neil, McCann, E., Musich, J., and Tralle, M. (2010). Parents Forever: The impact of divorce on children parent handbook. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Extension.