Even though more and more children’s books, movies, and television shows now deal with the topic of divorce and have helped to normalize it now in a way that was never done in the past, divorce can still be devastating to children. There are strategies for parents to use to help their children cope.Divorce is difficult for parents and children alike. Many children of divorce feel frustrated, sad, angry, and may even act out in unacceptable ways. Parents can work together to help their children over the rocky road of divorce
How to Help Children Cope
According to Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D, author of “Helping Kids Cope with Your Amicable Divorce” on PsychCentral.com, parents can help their children cope with divorce by listening, by being empathetic and by being reassuring. Parents should encourage their children to share their feelings and listen intently when they do. If they have trouble finding the words to express themselves, parents can help by being mindful of their moods and inviting them to talk and acknowledging what they say. Parents should let their children know that whatever they say is ok.
Parents should clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions that their children have about the divorce. If necessary, parents should repeat the reason for the divorce and reassure their children that, though some things will change, the family will work together to adjust to the changes. Above all, parents should be patient with their children. Adjustment will take some time for parents and children alike.
Demonstrating physical closeness with children is a helpful coping strategy. Parents should demonstrate physical closeness in the form of hugs and a closer physical proximity. Such closeness is a powerful way to reassure children that you will be there for them.
Parents should try to provide stability and structure for their children as they adjust to the changes. That doesn’t mean that they have to establish rigid, inflexible schedules, but having some semblance of a consistent routine in each household and open communication in and between households provides needed stability during divorce.
Divorcing parents should strive to work with their ex spouses, maintain an amicable relationship, and avoid arguing in front of the children or putting the children in the middle of arguments or disagreements. Parents should avoid making their children feel as if they have to choose sides.
Parents should be tactful and avoid discussing with their children any details of their spouse’s behavior. Parents should avoid making negative comments about their ex in front of or to their children. Divorcing parents being amicable and working through problems together is very reassuring to children and will help teach them problem solving skills as well.
When to Seek Professional Help
Given time, love and reassurance, many children will begin to cope with the changes that divorce brings about in their lives. Some children adapt rather quickly. Others may have a more difficult time and may need additional help.
It is normal for children of divorced parents to feel a certain amount of anger, anxiety, and even mild depression. However, if after several months, children of divorce haven’t shown signs of beginning to cope, parents should seek professional help for them.
Parents should watch for such warning signs as poor concentration and trouble at school, sleep problems, and drug or alcohol problems. If their children should start withdrawing from family, friends and loved ones or show no interest in participating in activities they formerly enjoyed, they may not be coping.
Parents should also watch for more severe reactions to the divorce such as persistent angry or violent outbursts or any signs of self injury, such as cutting. If any such behavior is observed parents should seek professional help.