Divorce is a difficult time for everyone, whether you are an adult or a child. In many situations, it is significantly harder for children. This is because they have very little control over the situation, and are subject to the decisions and whims made by their parents. This can result in some unwanted behaviors and overwhelming feelings that they struggle to manage.
How a child reacts to a divorce is determined by many factors. These factors can include their age, personality type, and the circumstances of the divorce itself. However, another important factor is how you and your spouse handle the divorce. No divorce is ever easy or stress free, but there are a number of things you can do to help your kids deal with their feelings and process what is happening in a healthy way.
- Minimize the number of fights and angry confrontations you have in front of your children. The stress brought on by their parent’s conflicts only makes an already difficult situation even harder for them.
- Try to keep the disruptions in their daily routines to a minimum. Schedule and structure are important to a child’s sense of stability, so maintaining routine will help them to feel stable during emotionally turbulent times.
- Regardless of how upset you are at your soon-to-be-ex, don’t share your opinions with your children. Poisoning your children against your spouse will not only make this process harder for them to handle now, it will also make healing harder later on in life.
- Allow your kids the freedom to express how they feel about the divorce, even if what they say is hard for you to hear. They have a right to their feelings, and they need to know that you’re willing to listen to what they have to say.
- Be honest with your kids, but also tactful. It’s important to let your kids know what’s happening and what to expect so that they are prepared for the upcoming changes. But tell them in a way that doesn’t assign blame or place the fault solely on your spouse.
- Ensure that both you and your spouse stay involved in your kid’s lives. The sudden disappearance of one parent can be very hard for children to understand. In many cases, a parent who goes from being a part of daily life to a once-a-week or even monthly visit can result in children feeling unloved. Often in these cases they assume that they are at fault, and the guilt can have a terrible effect on their self esteem.
- Reassure them regularly that both you and your spouse still love them. We cannot stress this enough. They will be struggling with fear and guilt and even shame. Love goes a long way towards healing emotional wounds and making hard times easier to bear.
Regardless of how hard you try to make this easy for your children, know that they are going to struggle. They will still experience frustrations, anger and hurt feelings that they will need to process. The best thing you can do is give them the space to work through their feelings without judgement or blame.
Remember, everyone copes differently and everyone has different needs during hard times. Be patient with your children. Give them the time and compassion that they need to heal. With the right support, your kids will grow up better able to cope with stress and conflict. They will also potentially be more flexible as adults, which will allow them to adapt faster to unexpected scenarios, which is a great life skill to have.
Attorney Brandy Thompson, a family law attorney, says that if you are involved in a particularly hostile divorce, picture yourself having a conversation with your children in 20 years from now, when they are adults. “If you were to ask them how you handled yourself through the divorce, what are they going to say to you? Are they going to be proud of your actions? Keep in mind, divorce is a traumatic experience for children, and they are going to remember how you dealt with it. They may not have all the life experiences to process the information as children, but they will be able to look back on events as adults, and what you want them to realize is that you handled yourself appropriately and in their best interests, even if your spouse did not.”