Most of us are keenly aware of our country’s high divorce rates, although recent statistics indicate that the numbers may be dropping. Regardless, divorce is a tough pill for any couple to swallow, and it could be even more traumatic for their children. It’s important for parents to know how to help their kids cope with what could be a difficult, painful experience. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Keep explanations straightforward and age-appropriate. Both parents should sit down with their children and talk about the divorce. Just be sure to omit the nitty-gritty details of your split. For instance, you might say, Mommy and Daddy have been fighting a lot and have decided that it would be better if we didn’t live in the same house anymore.” Explain the new living situation to your child, and give him or her plenty of time to adjust to it.
Make sure they know it’s not their fault. Children are egocentric by nature, and they may assume that your divorce has something to do with them. Continually reassure them that they are not to blame and that it’s not because of anything they did or did not do.
Stay consistent. Kids thrive on predictability, so try to keep things as normal as possible throughout the transition. Regardless of how amicable your split may or may not be, it’s important for both parents to be on the same page when it comes to schedules, rules and discipline. While you may be tempted to come across as the “fun parent”, resist the urge to bend the rules to win over your child’s approval.
Keep the lines of communication open. Your child will probably have questions about the divorce. Although some of these questions may be easier to address than others, the key is to make sure your child is comfortable asking them. Let him or her know that it’s okay to feel sad, frustrated or angry, and that you’re both there for ongoing support.
Avoid saying bad things about your ex. Both parents can help ease the pain by reminding their child how much they love him. But when one parent badmouths the other, it creates confusion and the need for children to pick sides. Instead, both parents should recognize their respective roles in the life of their child and go out of their way to help nurture and maintain those relationships.
Invest in your child. It can be easy for kids to get lost in the shuffle of a divorce. Regardless of the stress and sadness you may be feeling, it’s important to make time for your child. Express your love, create new traditions, talk and spend time together. Despite the divorce, your relationship with your child has not changed.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206 or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.