The word alone is enough to strike anxiety into the hearts of many parents. After all, doesn’t it seem like divorce will have a lasting negative impact on children? It doesn’t have to.
The truth is, while divorce can be hard on children, the new trend in divorce is among parents committed to being remarkable co-parents. If divorce is imminent, this is the best scenario to help our children cope with the changes they will endure. Whether or not you have a spouse or ex-spouse who is willing to cooperatively co-parent for the sake of the children, there are things you can do on your own to support your child through the process.
Here are 7 tips for co-parents to help their child cope with divorce in a healthy, well-supported way.
1. Keep it Civil
Although parents may be hostility behind the scenes, it’s important to remain calm with one another when interacting in front of your children. Our little ones are exceptionally sensitive to emotional turmoil in their environment, so it’s important to maintain a sense of normalcy and decency when communicating with one another when your children are present. If you must argue, do so in private.
2. Don’t Make Kids Pick Sides
Despite the conflict that may exist between parents, children love both of you equally. Although they may express hurt toward one or both parents, they usually do not wish to pick a side and often struggle to keep things “even” and fair between each parent. A child has many emotions to sort through. Adding undo pressure on a child can be damaging to their confidence and sense of security. Asking or influencing a child to choose a side, covertly or overtly, can have a lasting negative impact, including a broken relationship, even a decade down the road, between the child and the parent who attempted to sway a child to their side. Following divorce, most children want a continued loving relationship with both parents.
3. Keep the Trash Talk to Yourself
Even if you harbor intense feelings of dislike for your former partner, chances are your child does not feel the same way. It is inappropriate and harmful to “trash talk” your ex in front of your child. Find it in your heart to focus on the positive qualities of your ex, and make sure to share those qualities in conversations with your child. At the very least, follow Thumper’s advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” The divorce is between you and your ex—it’s best to keep it that way, between the adults.
4. Keep Things Age Appropriate
Your child should not know the inner workings of your marriage, divorce, or current relationship with your ex. So what do you tell your children? If you and your ex get along well enough, discuss together the best reason to provide your children for the split. Offer your child simple, factual explanations that are age appropriate and not too detailed. Allow your child space to ask any questions and provide them with answers without getting emotionally worked up. The very best thing you can do for your child is reassure them that they have done nothing wrong, you both love him or her very much, and that you will continue to love them, no matter what. You might also reassure them of the many things in their life that will remain the same, despite the divorce, such as their friends, their school, their bed, their sports…and if they will gain another house, bed, yard, etc., share that with them too.
5. Put Your Child First…
Although you both may have your own wants and needs as adults, it is imperative that you each put the needs of your child first. Maintain routine and boundaries as much as possible in your household, which can be different from your ex’s household. The key here is consistency in each household. Doing so will provide your child with structure, normalcy and a sense of what to expect, making the transition ever-so-slightly more palatable.
6. …And Address Your Own Needs Too
When you are equipped to process your own emotions and you’re operating from a healthy place, you’ll be better equipped to help your child with his or her emotional stressors too. If you find yourself turning to your child for strength or love or reassurance or any other emotion that seems to be lacking, consider that your child’s emotional capacity is very limited at their tender age, and turning to them puts an immeasurable amount of emotional stress on them. Parents should be there for their children, not the other way around. In order to take care of your child, be more mindful about taking care of yourself as you transition toward your new normal. It’s okay to ask for help from friends, family, and even a mental health professional when needed so you can remain a strong and consistent parent for your child.
7. Consider Counseling
You and your child may benefit from counseling before, during, or after divorce. Children are particularly vulnerable during divorce and may struggle to express their feelings about a difficult, confusing or uncertain transition. Assistance from a child therapist can help them interpret, understand, verbalize, and process their emotions. Let’s be honest, as adults, we need the same support.
Contact Creative Counseling Center
Divorce can be difficult. But it doesn’t have to be messy. If you are preparing for divorce, are in the midst of it now, or have already made the transition, consider whether support from a licensed professional counselor would be helpful to you or your child. We invite you to complete the brief form below to Request a Free Consultation. A member of our team will reach out to you determine if our practice and which therapist might be equipped to provide you or your child with support during what can be an uncertain time.