Dissolving a marriage takes an emotional toll on everyone involved, including (and especially) the children. Kids react in a number of ways to divorce, depending on their age, personality, and the specific family dynamics and circumstances. Initially, the reaction is often one of shock, anger, worry, fear, sadness, frustration, uncertainty and similar emotions. Over time, most kids learn to adjust to their new reality, but there are sure to be some ups and downs during the adjustment period.
As a divorce mediator, I am privileged to help divorcing couples and their kids cope with the situation by educating them on ways to minimize the long-term effects. This starts with an acknowledgement that it is in everyone’s best interest to part ways amicably and work hard to maintain a healthy, long-term relationship, and this is one of the reasons divorce mediation tends to be a “kid-friendly” approach.
To help kids cope with the divorce, it is important to be proactive early in the process. Try to understand what your children are going through, and be sensitive about their feelings. Here are some other steps parents can take to help children more easily adjust to their new circumstances:
Break the News Together
There is never an “ideal” time to tell the gets you’re getting a divorce. But the best way to do it is together; both of you talking to the kids after you have made your final decision to dissolve the marriage. During this conversation, be calm and cordial, reassure the children that it’s not their fault, and let them know they are loved by both of you. In addition, let the kids know that you will do everything possible to make this situation work for everyone, including them.
Keep the Routines of the Children as Consistent as Possible
Naturally, there will be parenting time schedules that will change the kids’ routines. For example, they may now be traveling in between two homes. While at each home, try to maintain as much of their previous routine as possible. The more consistency you give them, the more assurance they will have that things will be okay in the long run.
Do NOT Argue in Front of the Children
There are certain discussions that should only be had privately. These include talks about contentious issues such as the divorce settlement, other legal matters, disputes about what school or church the kids should attend, and similar topics. Keep these conversations private and away from the children as much as possible. Only speak to the kids after you have made a mutual decision about an issue, so you can present a united front.
Do NOT Speak Negatively of the Other Parent
You will no doubt have frustrations about the way your ex is behaving or his/her opinion about how to handle a certain issue. It may be difficult to keep these feelings inside, but try as much as possible not to speak negatively of your ex in front of your kids. It will be much better for them if they have a positive view of both parents, so try to keep the end goal in mind.
Stay Involved in the Lives of your Children
When you are no longer living under the same roof every day, there may be a tendency to grow apart. This means parents need to be deliberate in staying involved with the lives of their kids, even when they do not see them every day. Show up to their ball games, dance recitals, and other important events, and most importantly, do everything possible to let them know you still love them and care for them, regardless of the new living arrangements.