Divorce is hard on everyone involved, but no more so than the children. Because children are dependent on the parents to feel protected, a divorce can conjure up feelings of fear, anger and guilt — fear of change and an unknown future, anger over not having any control over the situation, and guilt over believing the divorce is their fault. These feelings may cause children to act out, become confrontational, or retreat inwardly and become withdrawn.
To mitigate this emotional turmoil, here are a few things you should and shouldn’t do before, during and after the divorce process.
What To Do:
- Talk to your children about the divorce in an age-appropriate manner, tailoring the message to their maturity level and temperament.
- Explain how everything will work moving forward, including living arrangements, and present an organized plan for moving forward.
- Make sure your child understands that the divorce is not their fault and that it doesn’t change how each parent will love and support them.
- Keep a united front with your spouse in front of the child, making sure to discuss the divorce without anger, blame or guilt.
- Allow your child to be upset and express their pain, fear and anger.
- Set limits and boundaries on behavior and hold them accountable for their actions.
- Give your child permission to spend time with and/or visit the other parent without feeling guilty or betrayal toward one or the other.
- Remain involved in your child’s life, including school, sports and extracurricular activities.
What NOT To Do:
- Berate, criticize, threaten or otherwise talk negatively about your spouse in front of or directly to the child.
- Force your child to talk about the divorce with you or your spouse if they do not feel comfortable doing so.
- Overwhelm them with information they may not be able to handle mentally or emotionally.
- Discuss financial matters or divorce details in front of the children.
- Allow the child to get too far out of control or use the divorce as an excuse to act out.
- Disrupt or drastically change the child’s normal routine.
- Lie to your child or pretend things won’t change.
- Force your children to choose one parent over another.
- Put your children in the middle of fights, use them against or attempt to turn them against your spouse.
- Use your child as a go-between or messenger, or ask them to spy on your spouse.
- Force a new relationship on your child.
- Pour your emotions onto the child or give the impression that you need their support.
- Lavish your child with gifts to make them feel better.
Above all else, remember that no matter how hard the divorce is on you, understand that this is very confusing and difficult for your child, so the easier and more comfortable the transition is for the child, the better it will be for everyone involved.