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Making Divorce Easier on the Kids

a boy, divorceDivorce can be especially tough for any children who might be involved. They may react to their parents’ divorce with anger, bitterness, frustration, sadness, and even aggression. While the way children handle divorce often depends on their age, personality type, and the circumstances surrounding the marriage and divorce, parents can do a number of things to help their children cope so that they go on to lead healthier lives.

Ways to Make Divorce Easier for Kids

The dissolution of marriage often causes extensive conflict, heated situations and extreme stress for everyone in the family. However, by following a few simple (and some not-so-simple) tips, parents can help ease their children’s transition.

Shielding Kids from Conflict

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), children who are exposed to ongoing conflict between their parents are at a higher risk for developing psychological problems and social difficulties. Parents should do their best to keep heated emotions and conflict away from their children as much as possible. Since it is often difficult for parents to think clearly and handle situations appropriately when emotions are running high, it is recommended that divorcing parents speak about legal topics and heated subjects when the kids aren’t around. If face-to-face discussions are not possible, writing letters or emails that are off limits to the kids can be an option, as well.

Practicing Mutual Respect

Divorcing parents should not consider divorce to be a battle in which the co-parent is the enemy. Name-calling and destructive comments should be avoided at all costs — especially in front of the children. Instead, parents should focus on positive behaviors that will help make the transition from marriage to divorce go more smoothly. Some of these types of behaviors include:

  • Encouraging parenting time with the co-parent and making sure to let the other parent know as early as possible when plans must change
  • Being flexible to the scheduling needs of the other parent and offering to help out when appropriate
  • Making sure that both parents have access to school records, medical records, and information about extracurricular activities
  • Encouraging children to write, send cards, or call the other parent on special occasions

Maintaining Routines

Separation and divorce can result in significant disruptions in the lives of children and teens. In many cases, kids must adjust to new homes and surroundings due to custody arrangements. They are often relocated away from friends and family members, and they must change schools and day care providers. So many changes all at once can cause children to become isolated, confused, and feel very insecure. Parents should focus on maintaining a child’s normal routines as much as possible and when changes are necessary, children should be adequately prepared with age-appropriate discussion.

Encouraging Communication

Although some children react to the news of their parents’ divorce immediately and openly, many bottle their feelings up; some don’t show any reaction for quite some time. To help kids cope more effectively, parents should be sure to keep communication lines open, be prepared to answer any questions that come along, and be on alert for signs that the child may be having a difficult time. A few warning signs parents should watch for include:

  • Changes in Social Behavior: As they cope with divorce, some children may show signs of aggression, isolate themselves from friends and family members, or begin smoking cigarettes or using alcohol or drugs.
  • Academic Changes: Some children bury themselves in their schoolwork to avoid the subject of divorce altogether, while other children have difficulty concentrating or refuse to complete assignments. Any changes in academic performance can be signs that children are having difficulty adjusting.
  • Regression: Many children react to divorce by regressing to behaviors that are more common in younger age groups. Bed wetting, problems with toilet training, thumb sucking and other infantile behaviors can be cause for concern.

When parents notice uncharacteristic behaviors like the ones above, it may be time to intervene by offering help themselves or seeking support from outside sources like close friends, family members, or professionals. In other situations, however, a supportive environment and time are all that is needed.

Avoiding Taking Sides

When divorce occurs, many children feel like they must choose between one parent or the other. This is especially true when one parent is guilty of unacceptable behavior like infidelity. Divorcing parents should refrain from blaming the co-parent in front of the kids regardless of the circumstances. Additionally, they should never encourage their children to take the side of either parent. Co-parenting is not, after all, a competition.

When divorcing parents work to ease the difficulty of divorce for their children, everyone involved transitions more positively.