Divorce is a common challenge many children face, and though this decision may be best for your family, you as a parent may worry about how this change will affect the little ones. How you break the news to your child and how you each cope with it will affect how well your child adjusts to the divorce.
Children might struggle with finding out about the restructuring of their family, and being clear about what’s going on will help them take it better.
Here are some guidelines for telling your child about the divorce:
- Tell your child about the decision to separate as soon as you decide, before a parent moves out. When children know what to expect they feel safer and more secure.
- Share the news together (both parents present) and agree on an age-appropriate explanation.
- Make sure the child knows it’s not his fault that his parents are separating.
- Talk about what in the child’s life will change and what will stay the same as a result of the divorce.
- If the child doesn’t know, explain what divorce means in simple terms.
Once your child starts to understand what the divorce will mean for her, complex feelings are likely to show up. The ability to work through these emotions in a healthy way is a learned skill, and you shouldn’t expect this from your child without lots of support.
Tips for helping your child cope with the separation:
- Provide daily contact with both parents, if possible, to make sure your child still knows he’s loved by both of you.
- Make talking about the divorce an ongoing process. It might be hard to hear some of the things your little one is thinking, but talking will help her work through her feelings. As your child grows, she will think about new aspects of the divorce and may have new concerns that need to be addressed.
- Model positive coping techniques for your child and practice some strategies with him.
- Figure out what living situation is best for your child. It could be hard to have joint living arrangements because a child might feel like she is being punished when she goes to the other parent’s house. If she is okay going back and forth, do what you can to have similar routines at both places (e.g. after dinner she does homework and then takes a bath).
- Use humor and silliness to ease tension and create positive moments to offset the stress.
- Do your best to co-parent successfully, especially by minimizing conflict between you and your ex.
- Read books about divorce with your child to help him feel validated and see that things will be okay.
- Use activities and videos about divorce on Sesame Street‘s website or similar resources.
And let’s not forget about mom and dad, because the best way to help your child through this tough time is to take care of yourself so that you can be an available and responsive parent.
How you as a parent can cope with the breakup:
- Think of past times when you have overcome something difficult. Prove to yourself that you can do hard things.
- Set aside time to do things you enjoy. Regularly caring for yourself will help you avoid burnout and depression.
- Take care of your health to avoid the extra stress of illness.
- Keep or create a strong support system. Include a therapist because they are trained to help people with this sort of thing.
- Be mindful of your situation. Having self-compassion in hard moments will not only teach your kids to do the same, but it will help you become emotionally resilient.
Divorce is complicated and difficult for everyone involved, but your family is resilient and with the right support you all can come out of this stronger and more prepared to tackle future challenges.
For age-appropriate resources on helping your child through divorce or other difficult times, please reach out to us here at Help Me Grow Utah (801-691-5322).