How to help your children through divorce

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As adults going through a divorce, we are sometimes so caught up in our own grief that we forget about our children who are also going through the experience …

You have made the decision to split. Now, what to tell the children?
  • Both parents should sit with the children a day or two before one parent moves out: telling the children way in advance will only heighten their anxiety and they may feel responsible for trying to patch things up between mom and dad.
  • Do not go into great detail, keep it short and sweet and do not blame the other parent: simply tell them, “Things did not work out as mom and dad wanted it to”.
  • Tell them that it is not their fault and that they will still have two parents who love them very much
  • Put them in the picture as to where they will live, who will take care of their needs and when they will see the other parent and extended family

Children need to know what will change, whether it be home, school, friends etc.

What can parents do to help their children during and after the divorce?

Research shows that three factors help children of any age adjust after divorce: having a strong relationship with both parents, plain good parenting and minimal exposure to conflict.

No real surprises there. The challenge for the parents lies in pulling it off.

Respect your child’s relationship with the other parent; if you denigrate the other parent in front of your children you are essentially devaluing their relationship.

The ideal approach to post-divorce conflict is to stop it before it starts. Here are five ways to lower the temperature when conflict is high:

1. Limit conversations when exchanging the children. Stick to the basics like confirming pick-up and drop-off times.

2. Don’t use children to send messages back and forth with your ex.

3. Exchange important details in writing. Some parents use email; others use a book that goes back and forth with the children. If things are really tense, have someone else (a counselor, mediator or friend) screen your email for inflammatory language before you send it.

4. Respect the other parent’s time with the children. Be on time (or have the children ready) for pick-ups. Make sure anything they need to take with them (homework, clothes, special equipment) is ready as well.

5. Respect your ex-partner’s privacy. You have a different relationship now; you’re aiming for more of a business type of partnership. You don’t need to know as much about his or her personal life as you once did.

Have a Parenting Plan drafted by a divorce and family mediator. A parenting plan essentially limits conflict and regulates how future conflict will be dealt with should it arise.

Keep the lines of communication open with your child.

Children’s understanding of divorce depends on their developmental stage. Therefore it is important for parents to know what thoughts and feelings children of different ages may be having, so that they can modify their own behaviour to help the children adjust to the divorce.