Divorce is stressful, overwhelming, and sad for the adults who are going through it. It also confusing, frustrating, and devastating for any children involved as well. If you are going through a divorce, you have to contend with your own feelings and the challenges that you are now contending with. It’s important to also be aware of the challenges and feelings that your child is grappling with. Here are some ways that you can help your child through divorce.
Be the Ones to Tell Them in an Age-Appropriate Way
Perhaps nothing would be more devastating to a child than to hear that their parents are divorcing from someone other than the parents themselves. As soon as you and your spouse are sure that you will be separating, it’s time to tell the children. While you might have confided in close friends or family members before now, it’s vital that your children do not hear the news from them. Sit down with your spouse and your children and tell them what’s happening.
Young children might not understand what is happening and will mostly be concerned with having a parent to care for them every day. Older kids and teens might have already suspected that something was changing. Children of any age need assurance that although Mom and Dad are splitting up, the kids aren’t losing a parent; let them know that both of you are committed to parenting and that the divorce was caused by issues with the adults, not with the children. A simple, “sometimes adults don’t love each other the same way anymore and they need to live apart,” or something similar, will suffice to help your child through divorce.
Talk About Where Each Parent Will Live
After your children have gotten over the shock of hearing about the divorce, they will likely want to know the tangible details: Where will they live? Where will they go to school? Will they have to move? Answer these questions as well as you are able. It’s okay to say that you don’t know right now. Once you do know, however, include the kids in those plans.
When you decide which parent is moving out, allow the children to see the new home that that parent will live in. To help your child through divorce, show them where they will sleep when they are visiting and let them leave some personal items there. It’s unsettling to a child to have to pack things like a toothbrush or shampoo to visit their other parent, so be sure to have toiletries, a few outfits, and some age-appropriate toys at the other home.
Help Your Child Through Divorce & Their Feelings
Children are affected in many ways by divorce. It’s normal and common for kids to regress and act out. Your four-year-old might stop staying dry at night. Your eight-year-old might begin refusing to do homework or might start sucking his or her thumb. Your teen might act out and rebel in ways they hadn’t before. These are all common reactions. Encourage your children to talk to you about how they are feeling to help your child through divorce. Make it clear that all feelings are acceptable. Your child might be angry, sad, frustrated, or depressed. If you and your spouse have been fighting a lot and tensions have been high, your children might feel relieved.
Keep the Details Private
If your spouse has been unfaithful or there are other “at fault” circumstances, it can be tempting to discuss these issues with a friend, perhaps within earshot of your child. Don’t do it. Your children don’t need to know the dirty details of what happened; keep in mind that they love their other parent and will continue to do so, even if your spouse did something wrong and caused the divorce. Older children and teens might be aware of an infidelity and confirming that that is what happened is possible without going into details will help your child through divorce.
Also, be mindful of keeping any arguments or fighting away from the kids. In any family, there will be some arguments, but if you are fighting with your spouse excessively, particularly if raised voices or accusations are issues, agree to put disagreements aside until the kids are not within earshot. This applies whether you’ve always had a “keep it away from the kids” philosophy or you’ve fought in front of the kids openly before. Now that divorce is on the table, any arguments are likely to cause stress and tension in your children.
Create Consistency in Your Child’s Life
One of the most important things to your children is consistency. Young children need routines so they know what is coming next. Older kids and teens thrive on consistency, too. During a divorce, it can be difficult to remain consistent, but during stressful times like this, consistent routines are important in order to help your child through divorce.
Work with your spouse to keep rules and expectations as consistent as possible. It’s normal for both homes to have some different rules and norms, but whatever your child has experienced so far in terms of behavioral expectations should be continued. For example, one parent might say that bedtime is 8:00 pm every night and the other might allow the kids to stay up until 9:00 pm on weekends, and that’s fine. For one parent to allow the children to stay up all night and arrive at school late when they visit, however, would be inconsistent and irresponsible.
Seek Counseling for Yourself and for Your Child
Divorce is hard for the entire family. Watch your child for signs of stress and don’t hesitate to seek counseling if you have concerns. Start with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor; they will be able to refer you to the appropriate therapist in your area who has experience working with children through their parents’ divorces. Getting help with divorce as well is a good way to keep the kids away from the harsher realities of the issue.
Also, don’t forget to schedule an appointment for yourself. Counseling can help you make important decisions and get through the stress of a divorce. In addition, it can make you a better parent: Learning how to communicate well with your soon-to-be-ex and your children can go a long way toward making everyone more comfortable and better able to help your child through divorce than before.