The decision to end a marriage is a difficult one that takes a huge emotional toll on the adults involved. When there are children, the impact and consequences of divorce increase significantly. How a child reacts to the separation of his or her parents varies, often dependent on age. Typically, children will feel some combination of fear, anger, and even guilt over their parents’ separation. Because of the impact and disruption that divorce has on children, parents must make the right steps in how they interact with their kids during this time.
How to Tell Them
Informing children of the intent to divorce is a critical first step in helping them cope with such a life-altering event. How parents go about this will vary according to the age of the children, and their ability to understand what is happening. Regardless of age, however, children should be told about the divorce as soon as possible following the decision to separate. Ideally, both parents will come together to talk with their children and break the news. They should be in agreement about what they will and will not say in an effort to avoid making the situation worse. Kids should be made to understand that the divorce will be final and that they are loved by their parents even if they are no longer living with both.
There is a good chance that preteens and teenagers know someone whose parents have divorced. For them, parents may be more direct than younger children. Parents should encourage questions, and answer them as honestly as possible. They should not, however, go into the exact details of why they are divorcing. Elementary school children will also need reassurance that they are not responsible. Parents will want to talk about ways that the child will continue to spend time with both of his or her parents and how their needs will continue to be met. Children who have not yet reached elementary school and children who are in the early grades my not fully grasp what it means to divorce. When children are this young, parents may tell them about the divorce by explaining that they (the parents) will no longer be living together in the same house.
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- PBSv This Emotional Life – Divorce: Children & Divorce
Provide Stability and Structure
Stability and structure are two of the most important things that any child needs. They provide a sense of safety and a feeling of being cared for. Unfortunately, divorce removes both of these, and may leave children feeling as if their lives are suddenly unstable. In some instances, children may also feel abandoned by one parent. One of the first ways to stabilize a child is set up a visitation schedule and stick with it. Everyday routines are also a way to provide kids with a sense of stability and comfort. Routines can be anything from eating dinner or going to bed at a certain time, to performing a certain set of chores. There should also be minimal change in how they are treated. They should not be excessively coddled or scolded; however, household rules should be upheld. The decision to co-parent is one way to provide kids with a sense of stability. People who co-parent remain friends for the sake of their children and celebrate holidays and important events. Co-parents also continue to make important decisions together.
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Stay Civil with Your Ex
Not only are divorces difficult, but for many they are also extremely volatile. This means that there are often a lot of accusations, unkind words, and/or yelling between separated individuals. Conflicts and abusive behavior are very upsetting to children who are already in a fragile state due to the divorce. Fighting can frighten a child and may lead them to believe that they must choose a side, or that they will permanently lose a parent. This type of behavior can, as a result, lead to both emotional and behavioral problems. To avoid this, parents should agree not to discuss problems with their children. Parents should make a conscious effort not to fight or discuss the divorce or any problems in front of their kids. They should speak with respect and consideration to one another and keep the well-being of their children in mind. By remaining civil, they will be able to best meet the needs of their kids when making important decisions such as child custody and visitation.
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Seek Professional Help if Needed
In some instances parents may be unable to successfully help their children cope with divorce. Even after several months have passed, children, in these cases, may begin to act out in negative ways that include anger, depression, or anxiety. Sleeplessness, decreased grades in school, fights, withdrawal, or self-injury are all signs that parents should keep a watch for. To help their children, the parents will likely need to seek the help of professionals such as a pediatric psychologist, therapist or counselor. Often it is necessary to see the child’s pediatrician for a referral.
- Children and Divorce – Signs of Distress in Children
- Psychiatric Times – Preventive Interventions for Children of Divorce
- Introduction to Divorce and Children, Section 3
- Helping Children Cope With Divorce: Know When to Seek Help
Take Care of Yourself
While it is important to think of the needs of one’s children during and after a divorce, it is equally important to take care of oneself. A person who is in poor physical and mental shape will find that it is difficult to properly provide for the needs of their children. Exercise, healthy eating, and plenty of rest will keep the body healthy and the mind sharp and aware. To be in the best emotional shape possible, parents should turn to loved ones for support by visiting and talking to friends and family members. Keeping a journal is also a helpful way to express oneself and release pent-up feelings about the divorce. Some adults may find it difficult to cope with their feelings regarding the divorce. There are a number of books available that may prove helpful, such as Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce by Judith S. Wallerstein and Joan B. Kelly. In severe cases, however, the help of a professional psychiatrist or therapist may be necessary to help one successfully cope with their divorce.
Financially, parents may find themselves in a situation where there is less money due to the divorce. When faced with this situation, creating and living within the boundaries of a budget often proves beneficial. People should also do their homework to learn what they are potentially eligible for financing. Researching property value and state laws regarding the division of assets is also important.
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Most psychologists state that divorce, in itself, does not necessarily create psychological problems in children. It is the parent’s reactions to divorce and how they handle it, rather, that can create those problems. While there are certainly many situations where a divorce may be the best decision, professionals have yet to determine if some divorces are beneficial to children. Many parents worry about how their children will handle the situation, and the following are some useful tips to help them cope.
The effects on infants during a divorce are often indirect. Some examples of this are when parents neglect them because of distress in their lives, or when parents smother them with their neediness. Parents, who have main custody, are typically the ones who tend to smother their children. It is essential that both parents avoid either one of these extremes. Toddlers, on the other hand, experience intense fear and anxiety pertaining to divorce and the changes occurring in their lives. Boys or “daddy’s” girls often feel extremely anxious and confused, as the father is typically the one to move outside of the home. Parents need to maintain a routine as close as possible to their children’s regular schedules to help them cope. The parent, who has primary custody, should take extra care not to go to the extremes as outlined above. Although infants and toddlers are unable to state verbally how they feel, they do, indeed, feel the stresses of divorce.
Preschoolers in Divorce
Many preschool-aged children have a difficult time knowing what is real and what is not, and divorce can cause them to become quite confused and scared. Parents should not hide the divorce from them, but they need to speak with them in terms they will understand. They should tell them that it is okay to be upset and scared, but that both parents still love them very much. Although parents should be straightforward with their children about their divorce, they should never divulge personal information to their children in regard to the impending separation, despite their age. This includes personal reasons for divorce; and if one or both of the parents are happy about the divorce, this is best left unstated. Children, who are six to eight years old, often go through many different emotional stages during a divorce. Emotions such as fear, anger, resentment and confusion are quite common when children experience separation. However, more than anything, most children within this age group will experience extreme sadness. Some of them even blame themselves, thinking that they did something wrong to create the divorce in the first place. Helping to ease these children’s pain can often be quite difficult, but there are some things that can help. Parents need to let their children know ahead of time when one of them will be leaving; however, they do not want to dwell on the event either. They need to let their children know that both parents love them, and that the divorce does not have anything to do with them at all. They also need to let their children know that they will still be seeing both parents on a regular basis.
9 to 12 Year Old Children in Divorce
While nine to twelve-year-old children also experience many negative emotions pertaining to their parent’s divorce, children of this age group often have several outside support persons to help them through it, such as friends and teachers. Children in this age group are also often involved in various activities outside of the home that help to keep their minds off of the divorce. Some of these children, on the other hand, become extremely angry with one or both parents during a divorce. Many of these children tend to blame one of their parents for divorce, and they hold their anger against that parent. It is essential for parents to calm this anger before it gets out of control. Simply sitting down with the children and explaining to them that the divorce was mutual and was nobody’s fault, often works wonders. Parents should never, under any circumstances, talk badly about the other parent in front of their children. In most cases, helping teenagers cope with divorce is much easier than helping younger children. Not only are teenagers more mature, but they understand much more than younger children do. A common mistake that many parents make after divorce is to try to become their teenager’s best friend. While teenagers are somewhat more mature than younger children, they are still children themselves. They do not need their parents to be friends. They need them to be their mothers and fathers. In conclusion, no matter what age children are, it is best for parents to try their best to get along during and after divorce. Children, who have parents that get along, cope with divorce much better than children, whose parents are constantly fighting. The above useful tips are effective ways for people to help their children get through a divorce.
Author’s note from Attorney Howard Iken: Divorce can have a significant impact on children, causing fear, anger, and guilt. Parents should take steps to minimize the disruption for their children. They should inform their children of the divorce as soon as possible and reassure them that they are loved. Providing stability and structure is essential, as well as setting up a visitation schedule and sticking to it. Parents should also stay civil with their ex-partner, avoid fighting or discussing problems around their children, and seek professional help if needed. Lastly, parents should take care of themselves to provide the best support possible for their children.