Helping Children Cope with Divorce

Divorce can be hard on both parties involved and it can be especially difficult for the children involved as they try to make sense of their changing family structure and relationship to either parent. It is important that before, during, and after the divorce process each parent is mindful of the ways in which the divorce impacts their children and that they have an open conversation with their young ones about new living arrangements and relationships.

How does divorce impact children?

During the divorce process there are many items to be settled, including alimony, child support, and future living arrangements. It is important that both parties model good conflict resolution skills, including open negotiation and compromise. If children are exposed to positive conflict resolution skills then they can learn something about how to peacefully come to resolutions when their is a disagreement between two people. Children often feel like divorce is their fault and that their parents do not love them, so it is important for parents to ensure their children that the divorce is not their fault and that they will continue to have to parents. Also, it is important that the parents do not set unrealistic expectations for their children, specifically based on who will be the primary parent and how often they will see the other parent who often provides child support. Often times, children are focused on the day-to-day differences, such as who will drive them to school, be there when they get home, and cheer them on at their sports practices. The more transparent you are about your shifting roles as parents the more you are able to model setting intentional boundaries and following through on your commitments.

What should I keep in mind during the divorce?

The boundaries that you set with your children and the details that you share with them are important to their understanding of the situation. During a divorce, you do not have to hide your feelings about the situation, whether you are angry or sad, but you may want to share some of these feelings in a way that feels appropriate and safe so that your children understand they can share their own feelings. It is important that you are clear that feelings may change over time and you should be open to a continual dialogue about the divorce as your children age. Although you should feel comfortable sharing yourself with your children it is important to keep in mind that you do not want to give them too many details or enlist them in helping you negotiate the divorce. Sometimes, parents use children to deliver messages to the other parent; however, it is important that you use a mediator or third party so that your child does not become confused about their role in the relationship. You want them to be able to enjoy their childhood without feeling the burden of the divorce.

After you and your partner have divorced it will take some time to establish a new daily routine in which the children feel comfortable. In the years following the divorce you may also be adapting to the new demands around the holidays, celebrations, and other special events. It is important that you check-in with your children often about their thoughts and feelings around the divorce and give them space and time for their own processing and healing.