Children and Divorce

For children, divorce can be an especially sad, stressful, and confusing time. At any age, kids may feel shocked, uncertain, or angry at the prospect of mom and dad splitting up. They may even feel guilty, blaming themselves for the problems at home. While it’s normal for a child to grieve the breakup of the family, as a parent there’s plenty you can do to make the process less painful for your kids. Divorce is never a seamless process, but these tips can help your children cope with the upheaval of a breakup and come out the other side more resilient, more understanding, and even with a closer bond to both parents.

 

How can I help my child through the divorce?

A separation or divorce is a highly stressful and emotional experience for everyone involved, but children often feel that their whole world has turned upside down. At any age, it can be traumatic to witness the dissolution of your parents’ marriage and the breakup of the family. Inevitably, such a transitional time doesn’t happen without some measure of grief and hardship, but you can dramatically reduce your children’s pain by making their well-being your top priority.

Your patience, reassurance, and listening ear can minimize tension as your children learn to cope with unfamiliar circumstances. By providing routines your kids can rely on, you remind them that they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. And by maintaining a working relationship with your ex, you can help your kids avoid the stress and anguish that comes with watching parents in conflict. With your support, your kids can not only successfully navigate this unsettling time, but even emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.

 

How to tell kids about divorce

When it comes to telling your kids about your divorce, many parents freeze up. Make the conversation a little easier on both yourself and your children by preparing what you’re going to say before you sit down to talk. If you can anticipate tough questions, deal with your own anxieties ahead of time, and plan carefully what you’ll be telling them, you will be better equipped to help your children handle the news.

 

Help your child grieve the divorce

For kids, divorce can feel like an intense loss—the loss of a parent, the loss of the family unit, or simply the loss of the life they knew. You can help your children grieve their loss and adjust to new circumstances by helping them express their emotions.

Listen. Encourage your child to share their feelings and really
listen to them. They may be feeling sadness, loss or frustration about things you may not have expected.

Help them find words for their feelings. It’s normal for children to have difficulty expressing their feelings. You can help them by noticing their moods and encouraging them to talk.

Let them be honest. Children might be reluctant to share their true feelings for fear of hurting you. Let them know that whatever they say is okay. They may blame you for the divorce but if they aren’t able to share their honest feelings, they will have a harder time working through them.

Make talking about the divorce an ongoing process. As children age and mature, they often have new questions, feelings, or concerns about what happened, so you may want to go over the same ground again and again.

Acknowledge their feelings. You may not be able to fix their problems or change their sadness to happiness, but it is important for you to acknowledge their feelings rather than dismissing them. You can also inspire trust by showing that you understand.

 

Seek support

At the very least, divorce is complicated and stressful—and can be devastating without support.

Lean on friends. Talk face-to-face with friends or a support group about any difficult emotions you’re feeling—such as bitterness, anger, frustration—so you don’t take it out on your kids. If you’ve neglected your social circle while being married and don’t feel you have anyone to confide in, it’s never too late to build new friendships.

Never vent negative feelings to your child. Whatever you do, do not use your child to talk it out like you would with a friend.

Keep laughing. Try to inject humor and play into your life and the lives of your children as much as you can; it can relieve stress and give you all a break from sadness and anger.

See a therapist. If you are feeling intense anger, fear, grief, shame, or guilt, find a professional to help you work through those feelings.