Separation and divorce are painful processes that disrupt the lives of many families. The effects of a parents’ divorce for many children can be modest and short-lived. If divorced parents get to a place where they can have polite but distant communication with an ex-partner their children in turn adapt to the new living arrangement. Nevertheless, many children report having painful feelings about their parents’ divorce and some children can have a prolonged reaction when they are caught in their parents’ divorce.
When children are not shielded from the fighting or when parents share the gruesome details of why they are divorcing (e.g. mommy had an affair; or daddy is lazy and won’t get a job) the effects can be harmful to the children. According to Lee & Bax (2000), children who experience their parents’ divorce may have show signs of anxiety, depression, and irritability; have more problems with peers and struggle in school.
It is important for kids, that parents learn how to have a co-parenting role in their kids’ lives. There is a clear consensus among researchers and clinicians that the child’s best interests are served by maintaining a relationship with both parents, except in cases of severe marital conflict and abuse.
Here are some ways to help your child during the divorce:
- Keep visible conflict, heated discussions, and legal talk away from the kids.
- Minimize the disruptions to kids’ daily routines.
- Confine negativity and blame to private therapy sessions or conversations with friends outside the home.
- Keep each parent involved in the kids’ lives.
Parents going through separation or divorce need support, and parents should seek this through friends, family, clergy or therapy. Parents should not use their kids for this kind of support, even if the child asks for it or tells you its ok.
Just like the parent who is going through their own grief and loss of the relationship, kids need time to grieve the loss as well. Encourage your children to be honest in what they are feeling, help them to put difficult feelings into words, validate what your child is feeling and offer them support. Remember you are not alone if you are not sure how to react or offer your child these supports ask for help, friends, family, your child’s teacher or a therapist can help guide you through these difficult times for you and your child.
By Becky Greenwood, LPC, InMindOut Therapist – San Marcos
Lee, C. M., & Bax, K. A. (2000). Children’s reactions to parental separation and divorce. Pediatrics & child health, 5(4), 217–218. doi:10.1093/pch/5.4.217
Lyness, D. (2015). Helping your Child through Divorce. Retrieved from: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/help-child-divorce.html