Many divorcing parents worry about the effect their split may have on their children. Initially, children of any age may experience anxiety, anger or shock. However, children may react differently based on their age, gender and personality. School-aged children, in particular, may fear abandonment, fantasize about their parent’s getting back together, blame one parent for the divorce or exhibit behavioral problems as their parents go through divorce.
If you and your spouse face divorce, it may be comforting to know that while divorce can be initially difficult for children, most kids are able to bounce back from the experience within about two years. Although your school-age children will likely recover from your divorce on their own, there are some actions you and the other parent can take to help them better cope with the change.
Distance your kids from parental conflict
Exposure to parental conflict can be detrimental to kids in numerous ways. It can make kids feel worried or afraid. It can also make kids feel like they must take sides by choosing one parent over the other. It can even affect the way children learn to form their own relationships.
To minimize these negative effects, try to keep arguments and legal talk away from your kids. Do not to speak ill of the other parent to your children, and be mindful of the conversations you have on the phone when your children are present.
Support each child’s relationship with the other parent
In most cases, children benefit from ongoing relationships with both parents after divorce. Your children spending quality time with both parents can help reassure them that their parents still love them and will not abandon them.
You may be able to help your children cope with your divorce by supporting their relationship with the other parent. This may mean opting for a custody arrangement that allows your ex parenting time, driving your children to the other parent’s house and being on time for scheduled drop-offs. You may also help your children cope by making sure to invest in your own self-care, so you can be at your best when you are with your children.
Encourage your children to talk about their feelings
Although school-age kids may have some understanding of what divorce is, they can still struggle to identify or express their feelings about the situation. Some children may lash out. Others may withdraw, but these approaches are usually not the healthiest way for children to express their feelings.
You may be able to help your children by talking with them about their experience with your divorce and encouraging them to share their feelings. You may need to help them find the right words to describe their feelings. You may also want to make sure they know that it is okay to feel whatever they feel. Age-appropriate books about divorce can support these conversations by helping your children make sense of the divorce and identify their feelings.
Develop a new normal
Kids benefit from predictability, structure and routines, especially in times of change. Your divorce will probably make many changes unavoidable, but keeping some things the same can help your kids feel more comfortable and adjust better to the changes that must happen. You can also help your kids by establishing new routines that make sense for your new situation. This may include a set parenting schedule and routines surrounding the transition from one home to the other.
Although your children may initially struggle with your divorce, they will probably recover well over time. However, you and the other parent can take several actions to help minimize the difficulties your children experience and help ensure they cope in a healthy way.