Children of divorcing parents are confronted with issues such as change and loss. They may wonder where they will live, where they will go to school, whether they will lose their friends, whether they will lose their mother or their father, whether the divorce is their fault, whether mommy and daddy still love each other, and whether mommy and daddy still love them. They will likely experience feelings of nervousness, worry, self-doubt, and insecurity.
All children are different, and thus, they react differently. The child of a divorcing couple may act out by becoming more mischievous and defiant, or he may become more clingy and in need of attention. The child might be openly sad or angry, or more isolated, quiet, and withdrawn.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO? Read more to find out.
IN THE BEGINNING:
First, parents should not break the news to their children until they are certain they are divorcing. When a couple tells their child they are thinking of divorce, it needlessly introduces stress, chaos, and insecurity into their child’s life.
Second, tell the child together. Most importantly, this helps preserve the child’s trust in both parents, but it also conveys that it was a mutual decision and helps ensure the child hears only one version of the facts thereby avoiding confusion.
Third, wait until a moment when everyone has time to sit and talk. The child will likely have questions. He will be experiencing some powerful emotions. It is a major mistake to break the news to the child right before school or his baseball game, or right before mommy is leaving for work.
Fourth, keep it simple, don’t give a complicated explanation.
BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER. (ALWAYS):
First, both parents must make sure their child understands they still love him and will always love him and that the divorce is not his fault.
Second, parents must avoid the blame game. While it might no longer be possible for the parents to have a healthy and loving relationship with each other, the goal here is to preserve that healthy relationship between each parent and their child. That child still loves his mommy and his daddy, and placing blame on one another would wrongly put pressure on the child to pick a side, essentially turning away from one parent and being deprived of that relationship.
Third, parents should leave the child out of it. Keep the papers out of sight and don’t discuss legal matters in front of the child. Parents should allow their child to be a child and insulate him as much as is possible from the problems of their adult lives.
Fourth, parents should avoid giving their child false hope. Many children will fantasize that their parents will get back together. They might even try to bargain or arrange for a reconciliation (Anyone seen The Parent Trap?). However, it is best to have finality and avoid stringing along the child. It might be painful for parents to see their child suffer through a sad and painful time, but giving a child false hope selfishly spares the parents some pain at the long-term expense of their child. The sooner the child accepts the new reality, as painful as it might be, the sooner he can begin to cope, adapt, and move on.
TIPS BESIDES COMMUNICATION?
Besides healthy communication, there is more parents can do to help their children cope and adapt to life during and after divorce.
First, mommy and daddy are their young child’s support network and should give their child any additional love and attention he needs. If this means reducing time on the phone or in front of the television, then so be it.
Next, try to keep things consistent. Often, the child will remain in whatever home he was living in and continue in the same school he was attending. Having some continuity at home and school, with friends, and with extracurricular activities can help mitigate the chaos and uncertainty that comes from divorce.
Third, as touched on earlier, leave the child out of it. Regardless of how curious one parent might be about the ex-spouse’s current social life, the child is not a spy. He is not a pawn; he is not a tool to use in order to hurt or punish an ex-spouse. What is paramount is the child’s best interests. It is best for the child to have as many healthy and loving relationships as possible.
Divorce is a life-altering and difficult time for all those involved, especially young children. Ultimately, when the parents can put their personal differences aside in favor of their child’s best interests, those children will have a better chance of coping, adapting, and going on to live a happy and successful life.
Some attribution to and additional information available at: BabyCenter