How to Help Your Children Cope with Divorce
Divorce is difficult for all involved, but it can have a particularly strong impact on young children. Children may feel a sense of loss, uncertainty, confusion, and loneliness. Often, they also wonder if they’re somehow to blame for the divorce.
There’s no way to make divorce an easy experience, but there are several steps you can take to make the transition less painful for your children.
Talk to Your Children Together
If possible, you and your co-parent should sit your children down together to explain the divorce. Explain in simple terms that your kids can understand, and be sure that you provide only age-appropriate information.
Say something like, “Mommy and Daddy don’t get along anymore, and it’s hard for everyone in the family. We decided it would be better for everyone if we live in separate houses.”
It’s also best if you can give your children some notice before one parent moves out.
Tell Your Children They’re Loved
It seems obvious to you and your ex-spouse that your children are loved, but be sure to say it often too. Right now, your kids are feeling vulnerable, confused, and potentially unloved.
Let them know that both you and your ex love your children very much and always will. Explain that your kids had nothing to do with the decision to split, and that this decision changes nothing about your feelings for them.
Make a Plan
Before you even talk to your kids, you and your co-parent should form an initial custody agreement. For example, perhaps the children will spend weekdays with you and weekends with the other parent.
When you talk to your kids about the divorce, explain to them how this arrangement will work. You can make them feel at ease by putting up a calendar so they understand that they will still spend time with each parent (and when they’ll do so).
Acknowledge Their Feelings
Allow your children to freely vent their feelings. If your kids aren’t able to communicate their emotions openly, they may express themselves through rebellion, poor performance in school, or isolating themselves.
You can also label these emotions to help your children process them. “I understand you’re feeling angry and sad. You can talk to me about how you’re feeling any time.” You don’t want to push your kids too hard to talk about the divorce, but you can make a point of checking in and asking how they’re doing.
Don’t Badmouth the Other Parent
This is a common piece of advice, but it’s extremely important—and sometimes extremely difficult. No matter what, try not to vent your feelings about the other parent to your children. Your kids already feel hurt and confused, and being forced into the middle of parental conflict will only worsen these emotions.
Right now, your children need to feel close to both parents and not feel that enjoying the company of one parent is a betrayal of the other.
In this time of upheaval and confusion, your children need as much stability as you can possibly provide. It’s okay to be flexible about your custody schedule in certain situations, but other factors should remain consistent, such as bedtime, rules, chores, and consequences.
You can also provide stability and comfort by allowing your children to help decorate their bedroom(s) in the other parents’ new home.
Although divorce is difficult for you too, try your best to shield your children from anger and conflict. Present the divorce to your children as the best and most logical solution for all of you. Make sure your children feel loved and supported, and provide the most stable and routine environment possible.
In time, your children will adjust and learn to cope with your divorce.