Divorce is not easy for anyone – especially kids. It’s important to understand that each family’s dynamics are unique, and each family member will respond differently. Everyone will also be on a different timetable and heal at different paces. Here are some ways parents can make the adjustment period less stressful for their children:
Without understanding the reasons behind the split, kids often feel guilty about the problems their parents are having and think they are to blame. Encourage your children to discuss their feelings, whether they are positive or negative. Be open, honest, and available to answer their questions. However, use discernment and self-control when discussing sensitive issues. In the process, you will probably find that you have to separate from your own feelings in order to address theirs. If that becomes too problematic or painful, enlist the aid of a therapist or divorce counselor who can lend a healthier perspective.
Take the High Road
Although it may be very difficult at times, 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 they hear negative things or feel they have to take sides, the adjustment period will be much longer. On the other hand, if they feel they are surrounded by the love and support of both parents, their adjustment to the new situation will be much smoother.
Also, resist the temptation to question your kids about your ex-spouse’s new living arrangements and/or new mate. And, don’t ever use them as messengers or go-betweens you and your ex. If you are unable to communicate directly with your ex-spouse, enlist outside help through a neutral third party.
Make a Plan
Enlist the aid of a mediator and work out an affirmative co-parenting plan with your ex-spouse that will meet the needs of your children in a positive and healthy way. This will require setting aside differences and putting hostilities on hold in the best interests of the children. Dr. Phil, author of Family First, advises parents to, “Agree on boundaries and behavioral guidelines for raising your children so that there’s consistency in their lives, regardless of which parent they’re with at any given time.” In addition, he encourages parents to commit to conducting themselves with emotional integrity. “If you and your ex have agreed to a plan, stick to it. Say what you mean; mean what you say.”
Seek Outside Help
Going through a divorce is stressful for all family members – adults and children. Some abnormal behaviors that you may see are:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Change in appetite
- Withdrawal or social isolation
- Easily annoyed or irritated
- Intense anger or rage
- Obsessive or overly anxious about the divorce
- Insecurity or low self-esteem
- Overwhelming sadness and lots of tears
If these feelings become extreme or last for more than a couple of months, you and/or your children will benefit greatly from professional counseling. Talking to someone who is impartial and has your best interests at heart can provide a different perspective and bring a sense of balance back into your lives as you go through this transition.