Studies show that 41% of first marriages end in divorce. Ending an unhappy union may improve partners’ lives but can devastate children. Fortunately, there are ways to support children through divorce and help them avoid common problems after a breakup. Families can thrive despite difficulties when parents are supported, practice responsible co-parenting, and carefully guide children through transitions.
Divorce Always Affects Children
Parents must understand the impact divorce has on children. Younger children can’t talk about their feelings, and older ones can have strong, unexpressed feelings about such a significant life change. Divorce always impacts children of all ages, even if divorcing parents still get along well.
A New Normal
Just like adults, children need time and help to adjust to life changes. Their parents’ breakup means that children must learn to live with a “new normal” that seems strange and challenging, even if it eliminates problems in their home life.
While every parent wants their children to be happy, it’s also essential to let them feel and express all the emotions that happen during such a chaotic time.
Children Are as OK As Their Parents
Children depend on parents for their every need, which does not change during a divorce. With that in mind, treating a breakup the same way as losing oxygen on a plane is wise. Parents need to put on their oxygen masks before securing children’s.
Parents Need Support
It is critical that divorcing parents have a robust support system and practice self-care so they can provide the security and peace children need. Friends and family can often provide support. There are also professionals who will help ease the process.
Attorneys offering divorce consultation can smooth over legal issues. Personal therapists and family counselors offer invaluable guidance because they have the training to address each family’s unique needs.
Protect Children from Discord
Fighting parents have a devastating effect on children, especially the youngest. A divorce is a chance for parents to show children how to work through adversity constructively and peacefully. Children feel more emotionally safe when parents set aside their feelings and present a unified front.
Avoid Loyalty Traps
Effective co-parenting helps reduce the negative impacts of divorce and creates a nurturing, harmonious environment. According to The Family Institute, co-parenting means that partners negotiate and make joint decisions to ensure children’s well-being.
Effective, nurturing co-parenting means avoiding “loyalty traps” which pit children against one partner or the other. You need to avoid trapping children into becoming one of the following:
Go ahead and start separating everything. Open a new bank account without the spouse and start placing some money into it. Follow the attorney’s guidelines to avoid taking too much money from a shared account or risking any potential issues during the divorce. Start thinking about how to split a family-owned business if there is one, how to purchase health insurance if it’s needed, and update any insurance documents.
Per a Psychology Today expert, many children of divorce begin to grow up too fast, believing they need to care for their parents’ feelings. Parents who are going through all the negative emotions caused by divorce may share too much personal information with their children. Letting children remain children and talking to a therapist about your feelings is wiser.
When one parent asks children to tell them what the other parent is doing, it turns children into spies, and they are uncomfortable with that. Answering questions about an ex’s personal life can be painfully awkward for children.
It’s understandable if you want to limit contact with an ex-spouse but avoid using children to carry messages back and forth. Statements like, “tell your father I still don’t have his child support check,” are incredibly toxic. Communicating via email, text, or services like “Our Family Wizard” are much better alternatives.
Respect Children’s Feelings
Children will have a lot of feelings about a divorce, and they need a constructive way to express them. Let your children know that whatever they are feeling is OK. Be careful to listen, even if hearing what they say is painful. Avoid the temptation to protect children by encouraging them to cheer up instead of letting them process their emotions. Children’s feelings can manifest in ways that include:
Children of divorce often act out, sometimes to test their new boundaries or due to anxiety. The best way to help is to create a structured environment. Be clear about boundaries and expectations.
It is common for youngsters to think they are at least partly to blame for a divorce. Because young children are egocentric, they often believe they caused their parents to break up. Take the time to reassure children that they are not the reason for your divorce.
A divorce upends children’s daily routines, causing many to become anxious. You can reduce anxiety and help them know what to expect by explaining their living arrangements or posting a calendar showing where they will be on specific days.
A consistent routine will reassure children. They do much better when their parents have worked out a predictable schedule that makes it easier for them to adapt and settle in.
Lack of Focus
Some children of divorce have trouble concentrating in school—a predictable daily routine and homework schedule help. You may want to let their teachers know about the divorce so that children get support during school hours.
Divorce can throw children off track and cause them to lose interest in favorite activities. They may withdraw and become aloof.
Give them the space they need but make a point to be available and listen when they want to talk. Try to get your child involved in their favorite things again, which helps provide a sense of normalcy. If a child does not respond or continues to avoid something, it could be a sign of an adjustment disorder or depression, and they may need professional help
Some children need more self-care after a divorce and may seek more of your attention. Previously independent children might ask for your help or support with things they have already mastered. Their sleep may also be disrupted. Be ready to provide needed support while they adapt to their new life changes.