Whether you are starting the process of going through a divorce or have been divorced for several years, it’s important to understand how your children will be impacted. To ensure the divorce will not have a negative effect on their lives both now and in the future, there are steps you can take to prevent the kids from getting caught in the crosshairs.
1. Be Open and Honest
You can help ease some of your children’s grief, fear, and uncertainty by openly and honestly answering some of the questions kids ask about divorce. Anticipating some of those questions will help you to be prepared to answer with sensitive and age-appropriate responses. The number one question they will have is “why are you getting a divorce?” closely followed by “where will I/we live?”
Many children often internalize their parents’ hostility by thinking they are in some way to blame for all of the conflicts. That’s why it’s very important for children to know and understand they are in no way responsible for the separation or divorce.
2. Encourage Good Parent-Child Relationships
No matter how upset you are, do not speak negatively about your ex-spouse in front of or around your children. Studies show that one of the biggest factors contributing to long or short adjustment periods for kids of divorce is the level of parental conflict they are exposed to. If your ex is critical of you and/or your parenting techniques, do not retaliate in anger or become defensive.
Even parents with the best of intentions may create the notion they will be hurt or disappointed if their child shows love and affection for the other parent. This in turn will cause the child to feel conflicted and uncertain. Unless circumstances don’t permit contact with your ex-spouse (i.e. abuse, violence, neglect), let your child know that you support their relationship with their other parent. This will help smooth their adjustment to the new situation.
3. Develop a Parenting Agreement
There are many other things that parents can do to help mitigate some of the damage caused by a divorce. This includes developing an effective parenting agreement that works for all of the parties involved – especially the children. A parenting agreement will help parents find ways to manage their behavior around their children, and put their children first.
NOLO’s Building a Parenting Agreement That Works provides many different types of comprehensive worksheets designed to fit each family’s specific dynamics. These can be used with or without professional guidance.
Consider Professional Help
Parents who can effectively manage the stress of divorce, will be gratified at how quickly their children adjust to the new changes in their lives. However, understand that divorce can put children at risk for psychological and/or behavior problems, or intensify existing mental health issues. That’s why it is helpful to consider therapy with a mental health professional who can provide children with a healthier perspective. Talking to someone who is impartial and has the family’s best interests at heart, and can help to bring a sense of balance back into children’s lives as they go through this difficult transition.