Eight Tips for Helping Your Child Through Your Divorce

Divorce can be a difficult and emotional experience for everyone involved, especially children. As a parent, it's essential to prioritize your child's well-being and help them navigate the challenges of divorce. In this article, we'll explore eight tips for helping your child cope with divorce and build resilience during this transition.

1. Have open and honest conversations.

Effective communication is vital in helping children comprehend and cope with their parents' divorce. Parents should strive to be open and honest with their children, using simple and age-appropriate language to explain the situation. This approach helps alleviate anxiety, foster trust, and encourage healthy expression of emotions.

Some age-appropriate language examples are as follows.

For younger children (ages 4-6):

  • Use straightforward and concrete language, focusing on basic needs and feelings.
  • Explain that Mommy and Daddy will live in different houses, but still love them very much.
  • Emphasize that the child did nothing wrong and that both parents will always be there for them.

For example, "Hey sweetie, Mommy and Daddy are going to live in different houses now. It's like having two different bedrooms, but we'll both always be here for you. We love you so much!"

For older children (ages 7-10):

  • Offer more detailed explanations, acknowledging their capacity for understanding complex ideas.
  • Describe the reasons behind the divorce, without blaming either parent.
  • Encourage questions and expressions of feelings, listening carefully to their responses.

For example, "Hey kiddo, you know how your Daddies haven't been getting along lately? Well, we've decided it's best if we live in different houses. It's not because of anything you did, it's just that grown-ups sometimes need their own space. We both love you lots, and we'll always be here for you."

For preteens and teenagers (ages 11+):

  • Engage in open and honest discussions, addressing their developing understanding of relationships and emotions.
  • Share your feelings and thoughts, encouraging them to do the same.
  • Acknowledge the challenges of divorce, validating their emotions while emphasizing hope for a positive future.

For example, "Mom and Dad have been thinking a lot about our family, and we've decided to get a divorce. It's not an easy decision, but we think it's best for everyone. We both love you so much, and we'll always be here to support you. It's okay to feel upset, angry, or confused – those feelings are normal. But we'll get through this together, and we'll find a way to make it work."

2. Offer reassurance. 

Children often worry that they are to blame for their parents' divorce or that their family is ending forever. This is a natural response to the significant changes they are experiencing. It's important for parents to reassure their children that the divorce is not their fault and that they will always be their parents, even if they are living apart.

Here are some examples of how parents can address these concerns:

  • "I know you might feel like this is all your fault, but it's not. Grown-ups sometimes have problems that they can't fix, and that's why we're getting a divorce. But that doesn't mean we love you any less. We'll always be your mom and dad, no matter what."
  • "It's normal to feel sad and scared when things change, but we want you to know that we're still your parents, and we'll always be here for you. We'll always love you and take care of you, no matter what happens."

3. Don't ask them to choose sides.

One of the most important things you can do to help your child deal with your divorce is to avoid putting them in the middle of your conflict. Never ask your child to choose between you and your ex, or to carry messages back and forth. This can create a sense of loyalty conflicts and can be emotionally damaging for your child.

Instead, focus on communicating effectively and respectfully with your ex, even if you're not in the same room. Use tools like email, text messaging, or a shared calendar to coordinate schedules and share information. If you need to discuss something with your ex, try to do it in a private setting, away from your child.

Additionally, avoid talking badly about each other in front of your child. This can create feelings of guilt, shame, or confusion for your child, and can damage their relationship with both of you. Instead, focus on maintaining a positive and respectful attitude towards each other, even if you're not together romantically.

For example, you could say something like, "Your father and I are not together anymore, but we both love you very much. We're going to work together to make sure you're happy and healthy, even if we don't live in the same house."

4. Get help from school.

Informing teachers and counselors of the changes at home can be a great way to get extra support for your child during a difficult time. They can provide additional guidance and resources to help your child navigate the challenges of divorce.

For example, you could speak with your child's teacher and explain the situation, asking them to keep an eye out for any signs that your child may be struggling. The teacher may be able to offer additional support, such as providing extra time to complete assignments or offering individualized lessons.

Additionally, school counselors can be a valuable resource for children dealing with the effects of divorce. Here are some ways a school counselor can help:

  • Listen and validate feelings: The counselor can provide a safe and non-judgmental space for the child to express their feelings about the divorce. They can listen attentively and validate the child's emotions, helping them feel heard and understood.
  • Provide reassurance: The counselor can reassure the child that it's okay to have negative feelings and that it's normal to struggle with the changes that come with divorce. They can also remind the child that both parents love them and will always be there for them, even if they don't live together anymore.
  • Offer coping strategies: The counselor can teach the child various coping strategies to deal with their emotions, such as deep breathing exercises, journaling, or talking to a trusted friend or family member. They can also encourage the child to engage in activities they enjoy, such as sports, music, or art, to help them cope with stress and anxiety.
  • Facilitate communication: The counselor can help the child communicate more effectively with their parents about their feelings and concerns. They can role-play different scenarios and help the child develop assertiveness skills to express themselves in a healthy way.
  • Provide education: The counselor can educate the child about divorce and its impact on families. They can explain the legal process and the reasons why parents might decide to divorce. This knowledge can help the child better understand what is happening and reduce their fears and misconceptions.
  • Support academic performance: Divorce can affect a child's academic performance, so the counselor can work with the child to identify any challenges they may be facing and develop strategies to improve their focus and productivity.
  • Connect the child with resources: The counselor can connect the child with additional resources, such as therapy groups or online support forums, where they can interact with other children going through similar experiences.
  • Collaborate with parents: The counselor can collaborate with the child's parents to ensure consistency in messaging and support. They can share information about the child's progress and suggest strategies for how parents can best support their child during this time.

5. Seek clinical counseling (outside of school) if helpful.

Sometimes, children may struggle to cope with the emotional impact of their parents' divorce. A counselor can provide your child with a safe and supportive space to express their feelings, concerns, and fears related to the divorce. They can also teach your child effective coping strategies.

Look for a counselor who specializes in working with children and has experience in divorce therapy. Such a counselor can tailor their approach to meet your child's unique needs and developmental stage. 

Some ways a counselor can help your child include:

  • Providing a safe space to express feelings: Children may feel uncomfortable discussing their feelings with their parents, especially if they feel like they're taking sides. A counselor can offer a neutral and non-judgmental space for your child to express their emotions and concerns.
  • Developing coping strategies: A counselor can teach your child various coping strategies, such as deep breathing exercises, journaling, or art therapy, to help them manage their emotions and deal with stressful situations.
  • Addressing behavioral issues: Divorce can sometimes lead to behavioral problems in children, such as acting out or becoming withdrawn. A counselor can help identify the underlying causes of these behaviors and work with your child to develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Promoting communication skills: A counselor can encourage your child to express themselves more effectively, teaching them how to communicate their feelings and needs in a healthy way.

6. Keep things consistent between homes.

One of the most confusing aspects of divorce for children is the sudden change in their routine and environment. To minimize this confusion, try  to keep things consistent between both homes, especially when it comes to rules, routines, and consequences.

This consistency can provide a sense of stability and familiarity for children, helping them feel more secure and grounded during a tumultuous time. For example, if your child is used to having a bedtime routine of brushing their teeth, reading a book, and saying prayers before bed, try to maintain this routine in both homes.

Similarly, if your child is accustomed to certain rules, such as no screen time before bed or no snacks between meals, try to enforce these rules in both households. This consistency can also extend to smaller details, such as using the same brand of shampoo or conditioner in both homes.

7. Take care of yourself

When dealing with the challenges of divorce, it's easy to forget about your own well-being. However, it's crucial to prioritize your own mental and emotional health, especially if you're a parent. Children often look to their parents as role models, and they may mirror your behavior and emotions. Therefore, it's essential to model healthy coping mechanisms and self-care practices for your child's benefit.

Here are some ways to take care of yourself during a divorce:

  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques can help you stay present and focused, reducing stress and anxiety. Try incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine through activities like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises.
  • Connect with friends and family: Reach out to your support network for help and advice. Talking to trusted friends and family members can help you process your emotions and gain new perspectives. Consider joining a social club or group activity to meet new people and expand your support network.
  • Take breaks: Give yourself permission to take breaks and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Whether it's reading a book, watching a movie, or enjoying a hobby, make time for activities that help you unwind and recharge.
  • Prioritize sleep: Adequate sleep is essential for managing stress and emotions. Ensure that you're getting enough sleep each night and establish a consistent bedtime routine to promote healthy sleep habits.
  • Practice gratitude: Reflect on the things you're grateful for, no matter how small they may seem. Cultivating a sense of gratitude can help shift your perspective and improve your overall well-being.

Remember, taking care of yourself during a divorce isn't selfish; it's necessary. By prioritizing your own well-being, you'll be better equipped to support your child through this challenging time.

8. Be patient.

Dealing with the fallout of a divorce can be a long and emotionally draining process for everyone involved, including your children. It's important to remember that children, especially those under the age of 10, may not fully understand what is happening and may react in unexpected ways. They may feel scared, angry, confused, or sad, and may exhibit behaviors that are out of character for them, such as acting out, becoming clingy, or regressing to earlier behaviors.

Be patient and understanding during this time. Avoid putting pressure on your child to "get over" the divorce quickly or "move on" too fast. Allow them the time and space they need to process their emotions and come to terms with the changes in their life. Offer plenty of love, reassurance, and support, and remind them that both you and your ex-partner love them very much and will always be there for them.

Final Thoughts

Divorce is not easy, but being open, consistent, and caring as parents can lessen the impact on kids. They may come through it stronger and more resilient than ever.

Divorce places heavy emotional burdens on all within a family. But by following the guidance above - keeping communication open, maintaining routines, cooperating on parenting, and more - you can lessen the pain for kids. With time, reassurance and professional assistance if required, most will come to feel secure in this new phase of family life.

Stay patient on the path ahead. There will inevitably be bumps, but your compassion will smooth them. Have faith in your children's resilience, keep speaking your love, and know that though changed, your family's bonds still stand strong. Lean on supports, care for yourself, and you will lead your children into a new chapter where they can flourish despite the challenges. Their wellbeing is still your common purpose - the star guiding your way forward after divorce.

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