From the moment you tell your kids about your divorce, you can counteract the adverse effects this profound change can have on your children. The first thing you need to remember is this: divorce was the right choice. It’s better to remove children from an environment fraught with heated arguments and turmoil than to stay together “for the sake of the kids.”
While children have a better chance at a normal life when sparring parents separate, the potential for trauma still exists. Here’s how to help your children adjust after a divorce.
A divorce has the potential to bleed over into all aspects of a child’s life, from school to mental health. It’s essential to understand the importance of working toward healthy adjustment, so you take the necessary steps to make it possible.
Impulsivity and delinquency are often issues with children from divorced families. When children have fewer conflict-resolution and peaceful problem-solving skills, they often resort to acting on impulse.
Behavior problems go hand-in-hand with poor academic performance. With adjustment issues, children are less likely to understand the importance of good grades. Keep in mind is that children who saw divorce as likely for their parents didn’t experience as many adverse academic effects as kids whose parents divorced unexpectedly.
Adolescents and teens with divorced parents are more likely to take risks, including trying alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. A 2010 study found that children who were five years old or younger when their parents divorced were more likely to become sexually active before they turned 16.
Depression and anxiety are common mental illnesses that go along with divorce. Children of divorced parents across all ages, genders, and cultures are more likely to develop psychological problems than children who grow up with both parents.
Doing everything you can to encourage a healthy adjustment is critical to your child’s development. These concerns are avoidable, but you must treat this time with the utmost care.
The first crucial step comes at the very moment you broach the topic of divorce with your children. If possible, both parents should come together and explain the situation. You don’t need to divulge specific details, but you should speak honestly and openly.
Give reasons for the divorce so your children can understand why it’s happening. These reasons can stay general, such as, “We fight all the time, and it’s really stressful.” Speaking honestly helps your children feel respected and important in discussions about their future, encouraging them to open up about their own feelings on the matter.
During the initial explanation and at all other times, stay calm with your ex. Arguments and spats can make your child feel as though they’re on uneven ground, and uncertainty about the future is something you should avoid at all costs. As long as the situation allows, set aside your differences with your ex and put your children first.
When explaining the reasons for your decision and whenever your ex comes up, do your best to avoid assigning blame. This makes your child feel caught in the middle of your fight and can lead to uncomfortable situations where they think they need to pick sides. While you don’t need to be best friends with your ex, you should try to remain cordial and avoid further conflicts in front of your kids.
One of the most common worries a child of divorce has is that the situation is their fault. Remind your children as often as they need to hear that your divorce had nothing to do with them. Speaking honestly (and generally) about some of the problems that precipitated the separation can help children understand that they’re not to blame.
From the moment you utter the word “divorce,” your child’s emotions become a whirlwind. Tell them that their feelings are entirely normal and encourage them to express their emotions. Some kids may go numb to avoid dealing with the divorce. You can help break them out of their denial by checking in with them and having them explain what they’re thinking and feeling.
Teach your children how to express their emotions without letting emotions influence their actions. While it’s okay to feel sad and angry, allowing your kids to take out their anger on other children at school or their siblings is off-limits.
Even when your child wants to see the other parent, feelings of separation and betrayal often come with transitions. You can help ease transitions by encouraging your kids to take along a favorite stuffed animal or book! Make it clear that you want your kids to see the other parent to avoid unconsciously guilt-tripping your children as they leave.
You should also plan to put on a smile when handing off the kids to your ex: kids who sense tension between their parents may become anxious. If it’s too difficult to remain civil, consider finding neutral ground, such as school or a friend’s house, where your ex can pick up the kids.
Consistency is vital in all things, from visitation to discipline. Talk with your ex about a parenting plan, so your kids don’t create an idea of one parent as “the disciplinarian” and the other parent as “the fun one.” Make sure you have consistent bedtimes and similar routines in both houses, as well as a go-to plan regarding homework.
Your kids need as much stability as possible, so developing similar parenting styles helps your kids feel secure.
When a divorce happens and children perceive it as their parents slipping away, they may respond by becoming overly attached to one or both parents. You should encourage your kids to seek relationships with friends to avoid separation issues later in life. You’ll need to strike a balance between time with friends and time with family, but giving your kids an outlet outside the house can be very helpful.
Divorce isn’t an easy thing to get right, so there’s no shame in bringing in an expert to help. Child therapists can offer great ideas on handling tough situations, and you shouldn’t think of them as a last resort. Separation also comes with a host of legal questions and complications, so consider reaching out to a highly rated family law firm in Chicago for help.
Now that you understand how to help your children adjust after a divorce, do everything you can to prioritize your kids. Every parent wants what’s best for their child, so set aside your differences with your ex and help ensure the best possible life for your children.