Helping Children Cope with Separation and Divorce

The best thing you can do for your children during this time is to make this transition as easy as you can for them. Keep the lines of communication open and be sure to discuss visitation arrangements, before you speak with your children. Discuss how the living arrangements will change so your children know when they will be with each parent. Let older children discuss where they would like to live and be sure to respect their feelings. Try to keep the routines as normal as possible. This will help them to feel safe and comfortable as your work toward this new normal. Spend time with each child, if you have more than one. Try finding other families that are going through the same situation. This can help your children adjust and have someone to talk to. Be sure to keep each other in the loop when it involves anything regarding your children. It is important to remember not to argue and put down the other parent and/or their extended families. Respect each other’s feelings and ideas the other parent has, don’t undermine each other. If you notice behaviors or other serious trouble signs (anxiety, sadness/depression, change in sleeping and/or eating habits, or trouble at school) speak to your child’s doctor.

By following these steps, you can help guide your child through this difficult new journey.

  • Step 1: Plan on how you will tell your children.
    • The best way to deal with this is by both parents working together. Think about the best time and place to talk to them. Be honest with your children but keep their ages in mind. Smaller children do not need a lot of details but older children might ask. If the children are older, don’t treat them like babies when discussing the information but be mindful about the information you tell.
  • Step 2: Reassure your children that you still love them.
    • Make sure they know that both parents still love them and will be there for them. Let them know that each parent still plans on spending time with them.
  • Step 3: Be very clear that they are not the cause of the separation.
    • Children often feel that they are to blame for the separation/divorce. Be sure to let them know that this something that happens to adults sometimes and there isn’t anything they could have done to prevent it. Be sure to remind them that there isn’t anything they could do to change it as well.
  • Step 4: Encourage your children to talk openly about their feelings.
    • Be sure to let them know that it is okay to talk about your feelings. They might have many feelings going on at once at that is okay. If they have problems expressing their feelings, be patient. Be as honest as you can when discussing their feelings and answering their questions. Remind them that it’s okay to speak about how you feel and not hold it in.
  • Step 5: Find someone to help them understand this new journey
    • If your children feel uncomfortable talking to you then be open to help them find someone that could help them. Let them know that going to a doctor, psychologist, social worker, or other family member is completely fine. Be sure to take the time to find someone your child will trust.
  • Step 6: Tell your children only what they need to know.
    • Don’t include your children in adult decisions or arguments. Especially trying to play one parent against the other. Children shouldn’t be involved in meetings you might have with lawyers or others as you go through this time.
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