Divorce is difficult for every family member involved.
No matter what spouses have done to each other to warrant a separation, the children inevitably get hurt.
The effect of divorce on kids has been widely studied. Results show that children suffer a great emotional impact when living in fatherless households. Research also indicates that children of divorce are more likely to develop learning disabilities, be held back a grade, and suffer from abuse.
These sad statistics don’t have to be a reality for your child. By remaining united as parents, you and your ex-partner can give your child a loving support-system through this difficult time.
There are always things you can do to help your child navigate your divorce in the healthiest way possible.
Here are 8 pieces of parental advice for helping your child to navigate a through a difficult divorce:
Break the News Only When You’re Certain
One negative effect of divorce on kids occurs when parents are unsure of themselves. They tell the child they are getting a divorce, only to find they are unable to go through with it or to reconcile shortly after.
Of course, children want their parents to stay together. They will be happy at a reconciliation. But, the prospect of divorce can put them through an emotional wringer.
To combat this, make sure you only break the news of your divorce to your children when you’re absolutely certain you want to separate. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I tried everything to make the marriage work (therapy, date night, reconnecting, changing behavior)?
- Have I truly thought about the reality of living separately and caring for the financial needs alone?
- Am I willing to separate the family and uproot the children?
- Will I really be happier separated from my spouse?
- Am I still in love with my spouse?
- How will I feel when my spouse finds a new romantic partner?
If you have exhausted all of your options of staying together, only then should you break the news to your child about getting a divorce.
Children may bottle up their feelings during a divorce. Or they may hold back from saying what they’re really feeling in order to protect their parent’s feelings.
During a divorce, encourage your child to be honest about their feelings by asking open-ended questions.
Important Parental Advice: Be Prepared
Your child is going to have a lot of questions. These are just some important questions that you should know the answer to before telling your child you’re getting a divorce:
- Who will the child live with?
- Will either parent retain the family home?
- What will happen during the holidays?
- Why are you getting a divorce? (Try and be age-appropriate with your answer, depending on the reason for the divorce)
- What school will the child be attending?
- How will this affect their social lives?
- Where will both parents live?
It can also be helpful to reassure your child that the divorce has nothing to do with them and that you both love them very much.
Don’t Make the Child Your Middle-Man
“Tell your dad X!”
“Ask your mom YZ?”
It’s easy to pass messages through your child during a separation, especially if they are going back and forth from each parent’s home throughout the week. But do your best not to.
Your child should not be the mediator in your relationship. Don’t involve them in your arguments. Don’t make them ask your questions for you. It puts them in an awkward and sometimes stressful situation that can make the divorce process feel even harder.
Be an adult and speak to your spouse about important topics or questions. Show your child that even though you’re no longer a romantic couple, you are still united parents who have their best interest in mind.
One excellent piece of parental advice for helping navigate the effect of divorce on kids is to be consistent with them as much as possible.
If it was your family tradition to do certain things on holidays or to get together every Sunday for breakfast, why not continue doing these things as a family? If your child goes to a sleepover at a friend’s house every weekend, make sure this continues.
Studies show that routine is important for children and helps contribute to their overall well being. It will also create a sense of normalcy after a divorce.
One of the effects of divorce on kids is that they often feel alone.
Fight this by reminding your child that you are there for them.
Try and help your child understand why they are feeling the way they do. Be supportive and always lend an ear when your child needs someone to talk to.
It can also be beneficial to legitimize their feelings and reassure them that the thoughts they are having are completely normal and will fade with time.
Get Outside Help
Everyone can use a little help at times. There’s no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed about it.
Going through a divorce is a difficult and confusing time. It brings up myriads of emotions from both spouses and their children. Family therapy can help your child navigate through this unexpected change in their lives.
Divorce counseling, personal therapy, or couples counseling can also help you (or you and your spouse together, if they agree to go with you) learn how to make the divorce as painless as possible for your child.
While going through a divorce, having a positive attitude is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But, it’s important for parents to set a good example for their children.
Studies show children mimic not only their parent’s behaviors but their outlook on life. Parents who have a positive outlook will teach their children to look on the bright side, even when things are tough.
The final piece of parental advice: Divorce is hard on the entire family. You can navigate the painful effect of divorce on kids by being supportive, creating a familiar routine, and having a positive attitude.
Author Bio: Rachael Pace is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy happy marriages.