Divorces will always affect the children involved. Whether a divorce goes relatively smoothly or it is riddled with complications, it will inevitably change your family’s structure and how your children live their lives. However, not every divorce needs to have a negative impact on the kids involved. While many children may initially experience feelings of sadness, anger, or worry, they can often come out of it more flexible and tolerant and with better abilities to cope with stress.
To get to this positive place after a divorce, parents need to help their children cope with this major change in their family life. Let’s take a look at some of the best strategies parents can use to help their kids adjust to divorce and come out on the other side with a positive outlook.
Explain the Divorce Simply
If your children are young and don’t know yet what a divorce is, explaining the situation to them can be one of the most daunting tasks you’ll face. However, it doesn’t have to be a complicated conversation. If possible, you and your spouse should plan how and when you’ll explain what’s happening and then have the conversation together with your children. If the reason for your divorce is too much conflict and arguing, which is the third most common reason for divorce, simply explain to your kids that you two fight all the time, it makes everyone unhappy, and that it would be better for the family if you lived in separate homes. It’s ultimately up to you how much you want to tell your kids about the reason for the divorce, but simpler is better.
Just as you’ve explained the reason for your divorce simply, it’s best to explain the custody arrangement as simply as possible. Playing out the arrangement with dolls or stuffed animals can be a good way to explain it to young children. For children of all ages, put up a calendar that clearly lays out the arrangement. This can help kids feel reassured that they will have time for both of their parents and manage their expectations for how having parents in separate households will work.
Encourage Kids to Talk About Their Feelings
Even if your child isn’t outwardly revealing their emotions about the divorce, you should have frequent and honest conversations about their feelings. Kids will often keep their feelings inside because they don’t want to upset you, especially if they see that you already feel sad or stressed. Talk to your kids about the emotions that children naturally feel in these situations and let them know that they can tell you their feelings.
During a divorce, children will also often need reassurance that the divorce is not their fault. Many kids tend to be egocentric in that they believe that their actions, words, or thoughts caused bad events. Make it clear to your kids that the decision to divorce has nothing to do with them and that the adults made it based on their relationship.
Don’t Talk Negatively About Your Ex
One of the toughest parts for parents going through a divorce is separating any negative feelings they have toward their former partner from their interactions with their kids. There are about 13.7 million single parents in the United States and nearly every parent in that number who is single from divorce deals with this struggle. If your child hears you talking badly about the other parent, however, they can experience a loyalty conflict. Your child may feel that they need to choose one side or the other and this will prevent all parties involved from having an open dialogue.
As a parent, you should also avoid relying on your child for emotional support during this time. Older children, especially, may try to offer you this support but this places a lot of responsibility on your child’s shoulders that they may not be able to handle. If the reason for your divorce was domestic violence, which is an assault that is alleged to have occurred between two people who have a domestic relationship, or another serious matter, telling your child this can complicate the situation and their emotions even further. Parents should seek emotional and mental support during a divorce from other adults, such as therapists, friends, and family.
There’s no guidebook to divorce. Every family will navigate through it differently in a way that best suits their situation. By using these tips, however, you may be able to more easily find the methods that help everyone adjust to your family’s new, and hopefully healthier, dynamic.