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Children and Divorce

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Divorce is an especially emotional experience and very confusing time, especially for children.  Children usually feel shocked, angry and sad when dealing with a divorce.  The transitional period during a divorce is not without pain, grief and hardship; however, parents can reduce dramatically its effect on their children.

Parents must be patient, reassuring and attentive to their children and help them cope with the new landscape of the family dynamic.  Helping children cope with the divorce requires the parents’ support and listening ears. 

During the divorce children want both parents involved in their lives.  They do not want parents fighting about the children, but rather work together to agree on matters related to them.  When parents fight about the children, children tend to believe that they did something wrong and they feel guilty. 

Parents should communicate directly with each other and not use children as messengers.  Parents should only say kind things about each other to the children or say nothing at all.  When parents say mean things about the other parent, children often feel as if they must pick a side.

Before telling children about their divorce, parents should prepare what they are going to say.  Parents should be empathetic and address the most important points up front.  Children should be told the truth about the divorce but keep it simple. 

Parents should be age-aware, meaning toddlers need less details about the divorce than teenagers.  “We do not get along anymore” should suffice and parents should remind children that they love them no matter what and will not stop caring for them.  Letting children know that parents’ love has not change, sends a very powerful message to them.  Parents should acknowledge to their children that some things will change such as living arrangements, schools, activities, etc. 

Parents should be honest without being critical of the other parent. It would be great if parents could plan their conversation in advance together as to present a united front and avoid confusion. 

Children should be allowed to grieve the divorce as it is as much of a loss to them as it is to the parents.  Parents should encourage their children to express their emotions and to keep the dialogue going.

Maintaining the children’s routines will help them feel safe and more secure amidst the changing family landscape.  The same rules, rewards, and discipline that was followed prior to the divorce should be followed during and after the divorce.  Do not give into the temptation of spoiling children during the divorce by allowing them to break the rules or buying them things.