As an adult, dealing with the emotional effects of divorce is difficult, but manageable. Your sense of the world is relatively stable; you know that big changes aren’t the end of the world. You can visualize a path forward and the resources you’ll need to navigate it.
For your children, the news of your divorce brings with it an often overwhelming amount of fear. While your children are developing, changes in the foundation of their lives can be profoundly affecting.
Divorce is never easy, but the turmoil your children experience doesn’t have to be permanently disruptive. Divorce isn’t necessarily the source of trauma; rather, trauma often comes from visible conflict between parents.
When you’re dealing with difficult emotions like guilt, anger, or embarrassment, it’s easier to miss your kids’ own needs and feelings. What’s more, the plans you’ll need to make to help them cope meaningfully aren’t always clear.
Keeping your children your top priority throughout the divorce is possible. You have the tools to help them cope and to move beyond it as a family.
How can you best help your kids cope with the effects of divorce?
Divorce is incredibly personal. It’s hard to keep a cool head as you extricate yourself from your ex-partner. It will likely not be easy at times but shielding your children from your own feelings of loss, hurt, and anger will reinforce parent/child boundaries and allow your children space to process their own feelings.
Creating goodwill means not talking negatively to your children about their other parent. Goodwill also involves actively working together with your ex to avoid using time with your kids as an emotional weapon. Do your best to cultivate an attitude of moving forward rather than rehashing old conflicts.
Talk to your kids together
Breaking the news to your children together softens the effects of divorce in the long-term. It’s important to show your kids that the two of you are working together to sort everything out. Your kids don’t need to know the specifics but it is important that they know they were not the cause or responsible for the conflict and ensuing divorce.
Offer your children the opportunity to ask questions. You can better understand how to help your children cope by asking what they know about divorce. How has divorce affected their classmates? What are their biggest worries moving forward?
Know what your children need to hear
Communicating as a family and creating an ongoing conversation is a crucial support for your kids. They will need to know that your connection with them will never dissolve. Tell them—more than once—that this is not their fault. Provide as much clarity and stability as possible. Let your actions show that your love for them is a constant.
Don’t make them choose
You can help older kids regain some sense of control in their lives by asking them how they’d like to spend your time together, but they shouldn’t have to make a choice between parents. While directing insults and criticisms at your ex-spouse might temporarily relieve emotional pain, doing so forces your children to choose—even if they’re not choosing out loud.
Get specific about the plan
For your kids, the effects of divorce throw everything into question. Having a specific plan for holidays, notifications, back-up plans, and activities will help them more quickly regain the sense that everything is being taken care of. Help them know what to expect by creating structure and a routine.
Practice patience and offer reassurance
It is inevitable that your kids will react emotionally—and maybe behaviorally—to the news of your divorce. No matter what you say or how you say it, this is huge for them. Allow your children their feelings and acknowledge how this affects them. At the same time, it’s important to reassure your kids that everything will be okay. Everyone is in distress and moving through one of life’s most difficult transitions. Patience, validation, and empathy will not only help your children’s healing process, it will also help yours.