An impending divorce or marital separation will affect adults and children differently. For adults, the decision to separate or divorce marks the end of a relationship. Children, on the other hand, will typically continue to have a relationship with both of their parents and must learn to navigate the strong emotions and significant life changes that accompany two parents living apart. Here is some information about how to help children adjust to separation and divorce.
During and after the period of separation or divorce, some children will be very open with their thoughts and feelings while others may withdraw into anxiety or anger. Some children will engage in “acting out” negative behaviors while others will try to become a model of “good” behavior. A child may even become very protective of one parent and develop an angry attitude toward the other. Within the same family, children may respond differently depending on their ages and personalities. All of these are common reactions to the feelings of loss and uncertainty that children often experience during divorce or parental separation.
As an adult, it’s important to remember that all children are impacted by the manner in which their parents handle their impending divorce or separation. Learning to manage the stress caused by the changes in your relationship is important not only to your well-being, but also that of your child or children. When conﬂict and hostility is present between parents, the situation becomes increasingly difﬁcult for children and emotional or behavioral problems are more likely to occur.
How to Help Your Child Adjust to Separation and Divorce
- Reassure the child that they will not lose your love and that you will continue to care for them. Offer this reassurance frequently and act in a manner that reinforces it.
- Explain clearly what things in their lives will change and what things will stay the same. Matters such as where they will live, how they will get to school, who will take them to regularly scheduled activities are very important to children. However, do not make promises that you cannot keep. For example, if parenting time is a contested issue in your divorce, do not make any promises to your child about where they will live until that issue is sorted out in the divorce.
- Try to keep daily routines for you and your child as normal as possible.
- Be sure to acknowledge and offer positive reinforcement when you see or hear from a teacher or family member that they are coping well.
How to Help Your Child Maintain Healthy Relationships After a Divorce
- Children often want to continue their relationships with your former spouse/partner and their extended family (grandparents, cousins…) so even if you’re feeling hurt or angry, provide children the support they need to maintain these family ties.
- Having regularly scheduled visits with the other parent helps to create a routine that is reassuring to children.
- Direct your child into understanding the positive aspects of the change in family living arrangements and why it is good for them to be spending time with the other parent.
- While it may be difficult at times, refrain from criticizing the other parent in the presence of your children.
Helping Your Child Understand New Living Arrangements
It’s essential for children to understand that decisions concerning living arrangement are not based on who loves them better. As a parent, it is important to routinely reinforce that living arrangements are based on issues such as what is best for the child, work schedules, proximity to school, and availability to provide transportation for activities and sports.
- Tell your child what the routine will be for school and weekend, how often they will see each parent and which nights they will sleep where. It may be helpful for you and your child to create a calendar so the child can visualize the schedule.
- In both houses, store clothing, toiletries, shoes and personal items for the child. This will make it easier for all involved.
- Once parents are living separately, household routines will become different. Be sure that rules are clear and easy for the child to understand, and respect that the rules may be different in your ex’s household.
- In each home, set aside a place that the child can call their own. This might be a place to keep toys or games, hang artwork or read books.
- Take time to listen to your child’s concerns about the new arrangements and understand their insecurities. A child may decide they do not want to spend time with a parent, or become reluctant to visit. When this occurs it’s important to explore why this is happening and if possible, work out a solution with your former partner.
Through careful consideration and attention on the part of both adults, separation and divorce does not need to be traumatic for children. By focusing on what’s best for their well-being, as well as yours, and actively listening to concerns and fears, all children can begin to feel secure and loved and start on the path to continuing their relationships with both parents.
Are you looking for a divorce attorney in Fort Collins or the surrounding area? Contact Laura Monty Law to schedule an initial consultation.