Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for children to become pawns in one or both spouse’s negotiations and this almost always results in an unhealthy environment and confused feelings for the children.
If you are getting divorced and you have children with your spouse, then your number one priority is to keep your children safe throughout the process and help them through the divorce, and the most effective way to accomplish that is to come to a peaceful and fair resolution with your spouse. It’s also vital to be honest with your children and discuss their feelings with them, so they can avoid feelings of guilt.
Here are some strategies for how to help children with divorce:
Explain the Divorce to Your Child in a Simple and Straightforward Way
If your household is in a constant state of parental discord, then it is already an unhealthy environment for your children. But the process of healing can begin by talking to your children about the divorce, why it is happening (without speaking badly about or blaming your spouse), and how things will be better afterward. For the best results, both parents should have the discussion with the children jointly and both should be committed to keeping their personal feelings out of the conversation.
Reaffirm Your Love to Your Child
When parents get divorced, a child will often feel responsible or believe that the divorce is happening because one or both parents no longer love them. It is important to reassure your children that you and your spouse are divorcing because you no longer love each other in the same way, but that they will always have both yours and your spouse’s love and that will never change. You should also explain how things will work, such as, “You will spend every other weekend and Wednesday nights with Daddy and the rest of the time you will be with Mommy.”
Don’t Hide From the Emotions That Kids Naturally Feel During a Divorce
Talk to your child about any emotions they might be feeling about the divorce, because they will have them. Encourage an open and on-going dialogue and let them know it is okay to feel sad, angry, or confused. During a divorce, it is not uncommon for kids to keep their feelings inside because they do not want to upset their parents, so check in with your kids frequently to ensure they are coping and handling the process as healthily as possible.
Reaffirm to Your Child That the Divorce is Not Their Fault
When bad things happen, kids will often assign blame on themselves because they believe their actions or behavior is what caused it. It is important to reaffirm to them that you and your spouse have made the decision to divorce solely based on your relationship and that it has absolutely nothing to do with them.
Keep Your Personal Feeling About Your Spouse From Your Child
When children are involved in a divorce, it can be easy for one or both spouses to talk badly about the other to “win” their child’s loyalty, especially when one spouse cheated on the other. Regardless of your personal feelings, this should be avoided at all costs, because for a child to process the divorce successfully, they will need the love and support of both of their parents.
Give Your Children Plenty of Advance Notice Before a Parent Moves Out of the Home
If possible, try to prevent one parent from moving out of the house with little to no notice. This abrupt change in their home environment can be devastating and confusing, especially for younger children. Instead, give your child plenty of advance notice, so they can start preparing for it.
Work With a Family Therapist
Working with a family therapist who has experience with helping children though divorce can be a tremendous benefit for both you and your children. They can give you practical advice and guidance on how to handle tough situations that will arise. Children may also find it easier to talk to a therapist on their own and this will help them express feelings that they might otherwise think will hurt their parents.
Be Prepared For Your Child to Act Out or Withdrawal
Every child reacts differently to divorce, but the truth is they all react. Some children may start acting out and getting in trouble, some may see a decline in their grades, some may refuse to listen, and still others may even regress to the point of wetting the bed. This is not uncommon. In most cases, a child who is reacting negatively to the divorce needs extra time, support, and open communication and over time, these symptoms will usually lessen as they learn to adapt to the change in their family. Ensuring that some favored family events will continue unabated is one way to help your child through this difficult time and help them realize that life will go on as usual.
Remember – divorce is hard on everyone, but it is especially hard on children. But as long as your children continue to feel loved by both parents and you and your spouse put in the work to create a stable and calm environment, your children can process the divorce and emerge from it happy and healthy.