When people with children consider divorce, it is always with some hesitation. After all, so many sources have told us that divorce can be emotionally devastating for children.
The truth is that kids do get through divorce, often very well. That said, there are specific steps you can take to help your child process the divorce and get through the inevitable shakeups that come with a new family structure. Here are seven of those steps, inspired by Mediate.com:
1. Be honest but be careful what you say. Don’t underestimate your children’s ability to understand what is going on — or their ability to recognize a lie. Don’t affix blame on the other parent or air your disputes but be clear that the marriage is over.
2. Explain that it’s not their fault. Many children wrongly believe that their existence or behavior is a factor in the divorce. This is a normal psychological process among children, so plan for it. Hearing “there is nothing you could have done to cause or prevent this” can go a long way toward reducing their fears.
3. Discuss the practical changes. Once your kids hear “divorce,” they are likely to have a million practical questions. Is a parent moving out? Will the kids be moving, too? Will they be changing schools? How will holidays and vacations work? Be patient, clear and realistic.
4. Begin making a schedule and sticking to it. Kids can adjust to new situations quickly, even if they aren’t thrilled with the changes. One way to make it easier is to create a consistent schedule for school, after-school activities, play time and parenting time.
5. Try to process emotions but remain as rational as possible. Be available to help your child process their emotions, even if — or especially if — they are negative. At the same time, don’t add to your children’s burden by asking them to help you process yours. Try to focus on the rational. For example, explain in age-appropriate terms why divorces happen generally and point to examples in the child’s life.
6. Avoid arguments and criticism of your ex. It is crucial to keep your disputes with your ex separate from raising your kids. It isn’t healthy for them to be put in the position of determining guilt or choosing sides, and it keeps the disputes current instead of allowing them to fade into the past.
7. Watch for troubling changes. Even if all goes well, you need to monitor your children for signs that something is wrong. Talk to your child about problems at school, aggression, mood swings and the like, and consider bringing in a child psychologist for help.