A Child's View of Divorce
Divorce is difficult for children to process. We provide tips and resources to help you support and identify your child's needs through your separation.
The concept and process of getting divorced is difficult for most adults to understand and cope with. Now imagine it through the eyes of a child who has neither control over the situation nor the emotional or developmental ability to handle their whole world changing. Children respond to divorce in very different ways and even the most amicable of divorces be challenging for children. Some may become angry and lash out, others may try to act as if nothing is wrong, and some may shut down as a way to protect themselves. It is important to remember to look at the divorce process from the eyes of your child so that you can address their emotional needs and provide the support that they need.
The way that children experience divorce can affect every stage of their life well into their adulthood. It is easy to get caught up in the often adversarial nature of divorce proceedings and as a result, the best interests of the children often take a back stage to the disputes between their parents. There are numerous studies that have examined the short- and long-term effects parental divorce has on children. These studies confirm that the parents’ ability to successfully co-parent and cooperate during and after the divorce can positively affect their child’s adjustment long after the divorce is completed.
So what can you do to help your child or children through the process? Some of these things may seem like common sense, however as emotions surge, it can be easy to forget them, especially in a contested divorce.
Work together and communicate.
Work cooperatively with the other parent to create a parenting plan and make decisions that are in the best interests of your child(ren). Try to choose natural transition times for your child to be picked up and dropped off for visits. This is particularly important for younger children who have nap and sleeping schedules. If your child is attached to a specific toy or finds comfort in a special blanket, make sure that you share that item and your child has it during pick up and drop off times. Consistency is important for children during stressful times and it is important that you communicate your child’s schedule or any changes with the other parent.
Do not disparage the other parent in front of the child(ren). It is okay for your child to miss the other parent when they are with you and vice versa. A common mistake is to make the child(ren) feel bad for talking about the other parent or making them feel as though they have to pick a favorite.
Don’t put your child in the middle of the divorce. Your child(ren) may feel responsible for the breakup of the marriage. During contested divorces, parents often use their child as a means to communicate with the other parent. One of the most common situations is for a child to feel as if they are in the middle of the divorce and then feel forced to pick a side. Use consistent dialogue to remind your child that they are not responsible for the divorce and that you are there for them.
Communicate. It is important to communicate with the other parent about how the child(ren) behaved during visits and any feelings or concerns expressed to that parent. Communication is also critical to showing your child(ren) that both parents can work together to make sure their best interests and needs are met.
It is important to make sure that your child, depending on their age, feels heard and acknowledged throughout the process. Give them opportunities to express themselves and let them know that their feelings are normal and it is okay for them to feel angry or sad or confused. Your child or children may not feel comfortable expressing themselves in words so look for other outlets for them to express themselves. This can include art classes, cooking, writing, dancing, therapy, etc.
This is a new situation for everyone. Join support groups and reach out to specialists or resources in your community to help you make decisions that are in the best interest of your child(ren). Reach out to your child(ren)’s teachers and counselors in school to make sure that your child is supported in school and that they are aware of what is going on in your child(ren)’s personal life that may impact their schoolwork. Counseling or therapy may be beneficial not only for your child(ren) but also for you. Divorce is an incredibly difficult process and seeking support can help you and your child get resources to feel more empowered through the process and have healthier outcomes after the divorce.
Try to keep as much consistency as possible in your child’s life during this stressful time. A divorce is not the time to change your child’s school, or beloved babysitter. It is the time to give your child as much stability as possible and remind them that even though some things are out of their control, there are things that will remain the same. This includes their school, friends, and most importantly, the love they receive from both of their parents.
Children, particularly young children, will mimic and reflect your attitude and reactions during and after the divorce. Be cognizant of your child’s emotions and behaviors and don’t be afraid to get them the support they need. The more you are able to coparent cooperatively, the more positive the outcome and impact will be for your child.
If you would like more information and resources please visit the below links:
http://splitfilm.org: A film for kids of divorce and their parents