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Helping Kids Cope with Divorce

Think divorce is an emotional rollercoaster for adults? Compared to the emotions kids face, that rollercoaster might be better compared to a carrousel. The effects of divorce on children can be long-lasting and vary a great deal from child to child. While most of the more than one million children affected by divorce each year cope well, expert therapists say up to 25% will experience significant emotional or behavioral problems that can impair their relationships well into the future. So even if you and your spouse will soon be going separate ways, coming together as a team and keeping your child's best interests in mind is crucial.

How to Minimize the Negative Effects of Divorce on Children

For unbiased advice, seek guidance from an uninvolved party, like a specialist in family therapy or parent coaching. A qualified professional should be able to provide insight regarding how to best handle new parenting roles and challenges. No matter how mature, most children are still fairly self-centered, so be precise in telling your child how the divorce will affect his world. If you describe this accurately, and don’t go back on what you described later on, you can help minimize the negative effects of divorce on your child. Speak honestly with your child about the divorce, but skip the ugly details. Chances are he may have already had an earful of the details if you and your spouse fight frequently. In fact, some children are actually relieved when they learn of their parents' plans to divorce.

What Children of Divorce Need to Know From the Beginning

Rather than spring separation news on your child at the last minute, keep him informed (in an age appropriate way) about what is going to happen. Take the following into consideration:

  • When the separation will occur
  • Which parent he will live with and where
  • Will he be going to a new school
  • How will he get where he needs to go
  • When and under what conditions he will see his other parent
  • Who he can talk to, like parents, counselors, or a therapist

Set aside anger. Alienating your child from your spouse just adds to the emotional trauma with which he is already dealing. Don't speak badly about your spouse or discuss the divorce in front of your kids. Never force children of divorce into choosing sides, use them as messengers, or pump them for information on the other parent. And most certainly never use your child as a pawn to hurt your partner. There's also a tendency for parents to relax the rules in an effort to reduce their child's stress or gain his favor. But most parent coaches and therapists agree that all children (including children of divorce) thrive on structure and routine, and that swaying from established rules or having different rules in two households adds to their insecurity. Above all, make sure your child knows he is loved. And show that love by educating yourself to the myriad of legal and psychological considerations that will be affecting him.