Divorce can be a very stressful time for both parents and children but don’t worry- many children “survive” the divorce of their parents and grow up to be well adjusted adults. Although it may seem hard, these are a few steps you can take as a parent to ensure that the divorce is as easy for your children as possible.
1) Telling your children
Making you children aware of the divorce is the first and one of the most important steps to making the process easier. If possible, have both parents present when informing the kids. Plan out what you will say ahead of time. This will help prevent anger and emotion from taking over. Be honest and straightforward, but be careful which details you include. If your children are younger, use phrases such as “Your mom/dad and I don’t get along anymore… We can’t live together anymore.” You know your children best, judge what details to include accordingly. DO NOT pass blame on the other parent. Give your children as much information as possible as to what will change and what will stay the same in their daily lives. Anticipate questions such as “where will we live,” or “what school will I go to.” Answer each question truthfully and to the best of your knowledge.
2) Assure your kids that you love them
It is important to let your children know that you do not blame them for what has happened and still love them. Assure them that the situation is not their fault, and make it clear you don’t love them any less. It is normal for kids to feel angry or upset at the situation. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know that it is okay. If you notice your child seems upset, a simple question like “It’s weird without mom/dad hear huh?” can make all the difference. This legitimizes their feelings and helps them understand that divorce is a difficult time for everyone.
3) DO NOT bad mouth or criticize the other parent
This can be the hardest step to follow for many parents, especially during particularly “nasty” divorces. However, it is important for your children to understand that they can love both parents. Constant bad mouthing and blaming of your former spouse can cause loyalty conflicts which can be detrimental to your child’s development. In most cases, it is better in the long run for your child to have a relationship with both parents. Watch out for subtle jabs at your former spouse. Questions such as “was everything with mom/dad okay” after visits can lead children to think “maybe it’s not supposed to okay at mom/dads.” These thoughts can have devastating long term impacts.
4) Try, but not too hard, to keep consistencies with parenting style
If possible, try to keep parenting styles as consistent as possible. If you can, sit down with your former spouse and discuss issues such as bedtimes, homework polices, or can he/she go to that concert. Having similar rules and customs can go a long way in promoting comfort and security in a child’s life. Obviously for some, discussing parental strategies with their former spouse is out of the question. If this is the case, try to stay consistent with rules and routines prior to the divorce. Avoid giving in and spoiling your children if they seem upset. If your child says things such as “but mom/dad lets me….”, do not give in. Give a response such as “well you’re lucky to have two different parents.” You are a parent too and have the right to decide what is right for your child. Do not, however, attempt to completely control how your former spouse raises the children. Parenting strategies is a major cause for post divorce fighting and can cause much unneeded stress on you and your children.
5) Do not be afraid to seek professional help for your children
If your child develops any of these warning signs after or during the divorce, do not hesitate to seek qualified help:
- Trouble sleeping
- Disciplinary problems at school
- Poor concentration
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Frequent anger or violent outbursts
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Refusal of loved activities