Divorce is prevalent in American culture nowadays. All divorces are painful, but those between parents of small children can be particularly hard, since you worry about your children’s emotional welfare on top of all of the other stressors involved in your divorce. Amidst all of the pain and chaos of your divorce, making sure the kids are okay is of paramount importance for most parents.
As a therapist in private practice, and the author of the upcoming book How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, parents ask me many questions about how to help their kids deal with divorce in the healthiest possible way. Here are five tips to help your kids cope and even thrive after divorce.
1. Be honest.
Make sure that your kids know that the divorce is final and that you won’t be reconciling with your co-parent. Additionally, admit if you are sad about the divorce; your child will likely be upset and this will validate his or her emotions. If you are going to have to change your child’s financial situation or your child may not be able to engage in certain valued activities, be open about this as well, and empathize with this situation.
2. Speak well of your co-parent.
No matter what circumstances led to your divorce, there is nothing positive to be gained from criticizing your co-parent in front of your kids. Remember, when you badmouth your child’s other parent, it’s like your badmouthing 50 percent of your child. Children need to love and respect both parents, even in the case when a parent is absent and the child can only have a parent-child relationship in the child’s imagination.
3. Don’t confide in your child about adult matters.
It is easy to let yourself slip, particularly around older or very empathic children, and allow a dynamic to develop where your child comforts you rather than the other way around. Even seemingly precocious children are greatly stressed by having to listen to adult thoughts and feelings, and kids begin to feel that their responsibility is to care for you, instead of feeling like a child themselves.
4. Keep routines stable.
Establish as predictable a routine as possible so that your child knows what’s coming next. In the case where your co-parent acts unpredictably, focus your efforts on your child’s experience when he or she is with you. Pick your child up at the same time, make playdates with the same friends, and, unless finances become too strained, keep your child in the same activities.
5. Give your child extra love.
Spend quality time with your child, check in to ask how he or she is feeling, do fun activities one-on-one and tell your child openly how much you love him or her. There is no amount of affection that is too much; your child will feel insecure about your changing family structure and needs to know that your love and affection will never go away.