Helping your child through your divorce may be one of the most difficult problems you will ever face as a parent. It's important, though, that you're honest and up front with your kids about the weeks and months to come. Check out these tips for help with this difficult, but necessary, task.
1. Be honest. Don’t lead your child to believe “Dad’s away on business” or “everything is going to be wonderful.” Children are very perceptive. They know if a parent is trying to hide something, even if the purpose is to spare their feelings. Children need simple straightforward answers they can understand, without blame or making anyone wrong or bad.
2. Let your child know it is not their fault. All children assume they may be responsible for their parents’ breakup. Children need to be gently reassured repeatedly over the first couple of years that the divorce is an adult decision having nothing to with them or their behavior.
3. Listen quietly. Children have many questions, feelings, assumptions and concerns about divorce. Many parents find it difficult to just sit quietly and listen to their children talk without trying to interrupt with a “fix-it” statement. Children need to feel heard with quiet patience and undivided attention.
4. Let your child know that however they respond to the divorce is OK. Many children hide their feelings of sadness, grief, anger or confusion because they are afraid expressing these feelings will upset their parents. Children need to know all their feelings are acceptable.
5. Let your child know it is normal for them to want their parents to get back together again. Children can feel ashamed about this very normal wish. You can explain to your child that once divorced, it is very unlikely that people ever get back together, but their wish for reconciliation is very normal.
6. Reassure your child of personal safety. Many children are concerned that if their parents divorce there will not be enough food or shelter or clothing for them. Children living with single mothers may also need reassurance that she has a plan to protect them in case of fire, “burglars” or “ghosts.”
7. Ask your child about friends of theirs whose parents are divorced. This is a good way to learn of your child’s fears and assumptions about divorced parents, and gives you the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions and remind them that other children have gone through what they are now going through.
8. Don’t put your child in the middle or try to make them take sides. Don’t say anything about your ex within earshot of your child. Don’t have your child carry messages to your ex. Children need to be able to love both parents. If one parent is disapproving of affection a child expresses toward the other parent, the child will begin to withdraw or become dishonest or depressed.
9. Spend time with caring friends. Having a supportive network can protect your child from becoming your confidant and feeling responsible for your emotional well-being. It can also give you a higher frustration tolerance for the normal everyday things kids do.
10. Distractions can be a good way to help kids who are struggling. Planning a fun day at the mall, park, or other place that your child loves is an excellent way to take their mind off the stress of a divorce.
Updated August 2012