Divorce is tough on kids. Here’s what you can do to help them cope.

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | November 21, 2013

For children, divorce can be stressful, sad, and confusing. At any age, kids may feel uncertain or angry at the prospect of their parents splitting up. As a parent, you can make the process and its effects less painful for your children. Helping your kids cope with divorce means providing stability in your home and attending to your children’s needs with a reassuring, positive attitude. It won’t be a completely smooth process, but these tips can help.

Common emotional responses for children of divorce:

  1. Anger and aggressiveness
  2. Anxiety
  3. Confusion
  4. Dreams of reconciliation
  5. Guilt
  6. Lowered self-esteem
  7. Obsessive
  8. “Parent-like” or perfectionistic
  9. Sad or depressed over the loss
  10. Withdrawn

What you can do:

1. Do not put your child in the middle

Divorce can bring out a great deal of negative emotions for adults, including anger, resentment jealousy, and guilt. Don’t put your child in the middle of the argument by asking them to take sides. It is crucial that you refrain from speaking negatively about the other parent to the child.  The age-old adage applies: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Resist the urge to ask your child to carry messages to the other parent or spy on the other parent. And, let your child know that it is not their fault.

2. Be consistent with the schedule

Children often handle their lives better when they are faced with predictable situations and environments. Children will benefit from knowing that you support him or her leaving to spend time with the other parent. Try making a calendar with your child and remind them that they are leaving the day prior to the visit. If you have moved out of the family home, make every effort to create a comfortable environment for your child.

3. Establish different rules in different households

It is too much to ask your ex-spouse to maintain the same rules in his or her home. You must explain to your kids that every home or public place has its own rules and these rules must be respected. Do not expect your ex-spouse to carry out punishment that you administered days before your kids left. Instead, when they are back at your house then the punishment can continue. It is each parent’s prerogative to determine the rules in each household.

4. Make transitions smooth

The more routine transitions are the better. Try handling transitions in a neutral place. Make sure your child knows that you support them leaving. For young kids, a stuffed animal may provide a sense of security. A picture of the absent parent may also accompany the child.

5. Be patient when introducing a new partner

When introducing a new partner to a child, go slowly and proceed with caution. This is a lot to digest for a child. First, a child should not be introduced to a new partner unless you have made a commitment. Let the child gradually get to know your partner over a period of time. Then when it feels right open up a discussion. Do not expect a child to welcome this new person with a smile and a hug. The more relaxed you are about it the easier it will be for the child.

Parent’s ongoing commitment to the child’s well-being is vital. If a child shows signs of distress, a family or child Psychologist can meet with the family to help children learn to how understand and cope with their emotions and help parents learn how to make the strain of the divorce easier on the entire family.

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