5 Ways to Help Your Child Through Divorce

Posted by: Shel 7 Comments

5 Ways to Help Your Child Through DivorceDivorce affects children in a myriad of ways. Just because they don’t seem depressed or their grades don’t crash doesn’t mean they are unscathed by what is going on around them. As a matter of fact, more than one psychologist I consulted with when representing children (whose parents are going through  divorce) has told me that grades going up during this time can actually be a red flag – it could indicate an increased focus on one small section of the child’s world that he can control when there is so much chaos in his environment.

Divorce for adults can be difficult, painful, and confusing. For children, we have all that plus a lack of understanding regarding the reasons or need for divorce and a lesser ability to process life events.There’s not an easy way to get everybody through it. But there are some things you can do to help make it less difficult for your child. Here are five.

1. Let teachers and child care workers know about your family situation. They spend a significant amount of the day with your child and  might pick up on behavioral changes in their environments that they could alert you to. It also allows them to understand changes in your child’s attitude or demeanor which might otherwise be attributed to willful misbehavior.

2. Explore support groups. While counseling can be helpful and sometimes necessary for children, support groups serve a different purpose. There are many good programs available that help children transition through divorce by participating in groups with other children their age that are experiencing the same thing. This is not a therapeutic relationship with a counselor. It is an opportunity for children to see they are not the only ones dealing with this, it is not their fault, and to participate in exercises that educate them about how to deal with some of the emotions they are dealing with. Calm Waters, one such program in Oklahoma City, offers such a program with separate sessions available for the parents at the same time to receive information about the topic being covered in the children’s session. You can find such programs in your own area by asking school counselors, your attorney, or court staff for recommendations.

3. Talk to a children’s counselor yourself. Make an appointment to sit down with a good children’s counselor to get advice. They can educate you on norms and behaviors that may manifest themselves for children of different ages as well as make suggestions for ways to share age-appropriate information about the process. They can also make recommendations for activities and reading materials that may be helpful to your children.

4. Don’t talk negatively about the other parent. The children are dealing with enough negative changes they don’t need negative words, feelings and attitudes heaped upon them, too. If you have it in you, you might take this one step further and go out of your way to be positive about the other parent and the child’s relationship with that parent.

5. Don’t expose them to romantic relationships. No matter how long you have been separated from the other parent or how convinced you are the current flame will be your future spouse. Allow them time to process the changes going on in their own family before foisting new ‘family’ upon them. There are so many negatives that can come from such exposure – confusion, anger, blame, lack of trust, aligning themselves with the non-dating parent – that when to introduce such a person to the children may be one of the topics you want to discuss at your meeting with the children’s counselor.

Related article you might find helpful: Divorce Through a Child’s EyesChildren and Divorce: 5 Things Parents Should Never Say

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  • Gina

    As adults, it’s devastating no matter the cause or fault. Sometimes we lose sight as to how adversely it affects them, because we’re so wrapped up in our own stuff. I love love your statement “how would you feel if the other parent said that about you?” Not sure if it would apply to new romantic relationships, but I will let you know. I intend to start asking.

    • Shel Harrington

      I do think that’s a lot of it, Gina – many good parents in so much pain that they aren’t as sensitive to how their children are processing things as they normally would be. And then, of course (as you well know) there are some parents that are fine with everybody else hurting along with them.

  • good advice and important, adults heal while children try to understand….

    • Shel Harrington

      Wow – nicely said, Lin! Hope you enjoy your weekend!

  • Great advice, Shel. Number 4 is so important, but unfortunately it happens all too often.

    • Shel Harrington

      I agree, Jill. I suggest to my clients that they ask themselves: Would it be OK if he/she (other parent) said that about me to the kids? It’s surprising how often that little bit of reflection can make a difference – at least for those really trying to protect their children. Have a great weekend!

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