Protecting Kids From Divorce
Protecting Kids From Divorce
Dear Tacit,

My partner and I are getting divorced and we have two young children.  How can we help them get through this difficult time?

Signed: Protecting Kids From Divorce

Dear Protecting Kids From Divorce,

Helping children cope with divorce is a sensitive and challenging process.  It requires empathy, patience, and understanding. Kids (of any age) will usually feel a mix of conflicting emotions – they often don’t know how to process (or even understand) what they are feeling, so they require support from the people that they trust the most in this world, to help them navigate the difficult moments.  This usually means BOTH of their parents (if at all possible)!

As parents who are worried about your children’s wellbeing, you have to know one very important thing… you will not always get it right! This is new territory for your whole family to experience.  And you cannot always predict what your kids will need or how they will react.  You will not always have the energy or the emotional stamina to be able to cope with your children’s emotions while your own pain/frustration is also needing your attention.  Just try your best – and when you mess up, try to forgive (yourself or your partner) and then try again harder the next day!

Here are some ideas that might help:

  1. Open Communication:

Encourage open and honest dialogue with your children. Let them express their feelings and concerns without judgment.  Reassure them that the divorce is not their fault and that both parents will continue to love and support them. Of course, they might not always have the words to express what they are thinking/feeling – you will need to find creative ways to get them talking about their fears and worries (especially regarding the changes they are imagining).  These conversations will need to happen frequently and casually (not always directly) – at mealtimes, before bed, while you are driving somewhere, etc.  Use open ended questions and remember to encourage positive connections to both sides of the family.  Make sure the information you are sharing with your child is age-appropriate (and be careful what you say to others when your child is not in the room – they CAN still hear you!).

  1. Maintain Stability:

Keep life as consistent as possible when your child is in both homes. Children often find comfort in predictability (regular patterns, same expectations, etc), especially during times of change. Keep familiar rituals and activities intact as much as possible.  Support your children in maintaining relationships with friends and family members (even if you do not want to yourself). Positive social connections can be a source of comfort. The more upheaval your child experiences, the more overwhelmed they will feel and the harder it will be for them to cope.

  1. Validate Their Feelings:

Acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions, no matter what they are expressing. Offer empathy and understanding and reassure your child that whatever they are feeling is okay to talk about.  Be sure you don’t overreact or disregard/minimize what they are saying when they trust you with their deepest shares.

  1. Co-Parenting Cooperation:

Collaborate with your ex to create a united front as parents. Consistency between households can help children feel secure.  Maintain open communication with the other parent about important issues related to your children.  If one partner moves away, the link between parent/child needs to be maintained.  Arrange for virtual visits, send texts on a daily basis, mail postcards or write letters to your child – call them so they can hear your voice, or create a family website.

  1. Empower Them:

Encourage your children to have a voice or a choice in everyday life decisions (even small ones) that affect them, when appropriate. This can help them feel more in control during a period of change.

  1. Self-Care:

Model healthy coping mechanisms by taking care of your own emotional and physical well-being. This sets an example for your children on how to handle stress.  It’s okay if they see you cry sometimes or if they understand from you (in appropriate ways) that life gets overwhelming.  But also show them how to be resilient during these challenging moments.

  1. Maintain a Positive Outlook:

Focus on the positives about the change (and about your ex).  Reassure your children about the love and support they will continue to receive from you both.  Avoid speaking negatively about your ex (or their family) in the home or in front of the children, no matter what is going on.  Find neutral statements if you cannot be positive.

  1. Additional Support:

Let the school or daycare know about what is happening.  Keep an eye on any significant changes in behavior, sleep patterns, or academic performance. Consider involving a therapist or counsellor to help your child navigate their emotions, if they seem to need some additional support. Professional support can provide them with a safe space to express themselves. But informal supports can be just as effective for many children.  Ask close family friends or extended family members (who can remain impartial and supportive to the connections with both parents) to spend extra time with your child.  The larger the significant (trusted) adult network, the safer and more secure your child will feel.

Understand that healing takes time. Be patient and supportive as your children adjust to the changes in their family dynamics. Remember, every child is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It’s crucial to remain flexible and attuned to your children’s needs throughout the whole divorce process.

Take care!


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