Divorce is very hard on children. It radically changes their entire lives by changing their families and living conditions and by challenging their ability to trust in the stability and reliability of parental support. Lacking proper perspective due to their young age, inexperience and immaturity, children are prone to misinterpreting the reasons divorce is occurring, and to exaggerating how divorce will affect them.
Divorce leaves a mark on all children it touches, although different children are affected in different ways. Many children are initially reactive but eventually are resilient and end up adjusting to their changed circumstances. It is thus very important that divorcing parents do what they can to minimize the impact of their divorce on their children.
Tell children divorce is not their fault. Most children begin life with a self-centered mindset; they see the world as revolving around them. When confronted with divorce, a young child’s reaction is thus likely to be a self-centered one; to think that he or she must have caused divorce to happen. For this reason, both divorcing parents should make it clear to their children that their decision to divorce was not caused by anything that they (their children) did, that they (their children) are still loved, and that both parents will continue to love and protect their children despite the changed circumstances. Parents will likely need to repeat these messages of blamelessness and love many times before their children will hear and accept them.
Invite children to talk, listen to what they have to say, and provide love and emotional support. Anger and anxiety are common child reactions to divorce. Parents can help their children to work through upset feelings by encouraging them to express and talk about them in appropriate ways. Different children will express their feelings differently with some talking about them, and others acting them out. Listen carefully to what children have to say and what they do. Normalize reasonable and justified emotions.
Correct and explain fears that are mistaken or out of proportion and help them to understand why this is so. At the same time, express love and concern for children’s welfare, and allow them to escape discussion when talking becomes uncomfortable.
Expect to address the same concerns on multiple occasions as it may take children many repetitions before their fears are allayed. Consider taking the children into family therapy with a qualified therapist if their adjustment proves especially difficult.
How do you help your children cope?