When parents separate or divorce, the effects can be devastating on children, even though a divorce may be the only option in an unhealthy marriage. Because kids aren't emotionally mature enough to understand the nature of a marriage, they cannot grasp what a divorce really means - except what it means to them. For kids, divorce can mean going from one home to two, living without one parent or another, seeing difficult interactions between their parents, and experiencing sadness, anger and confusion. Helping your kids cope with divorce and walking with them through what they experience will play a big role in their recovery process.
Talking about Divorce
Even though divorce is never an easy subject to talk about, being open with your kids is crucial. Make some time to talk in a setting where they can express their feelings. Ask questions to help draw out their thoughts and fears. Kids may have seen very bad examples of broken families after a divorce and may worry their life will end up the same way. You don't need to share every detail, but be honest about what's going to happen and give them an idea of how it will impact them. If possible, sit your kids down with their other parent and share the news together as a family. Let them see both parental sides uniting because of your love for them, even if you are parting ways with your spouse. Be prepared for questions now and in the future as your kids work through their feelings.
Tips for Helping Kids Cope
Promote as much stability as possible - One thing that kids lose when parents divorce is stability. Stability and routine have been studied by experts and are known to help kids develop self-confidence. In a divorce, kids have to adjust to a new home, life without both parents, being shuffled back and forth between parents. This instability can lead to anxiety. Parents, as much as possible, should work together to keep life as stable and "normal" as it ever was. Even though there will be changes, you can help your kids adjust by not making any abrupt decisions and by talking to them ahead of time about what's going to happen so they have time to adjust to every change.
Listen - When kids see parents experiencing turmoil, they are less likely to share their own feelings, for fear of burdening their parents. However, kids need to talk. Talking helps kids work through their feelings, express difficult emotions and get things off their chest. Even if kids say things that are tough to hear, it's important that they feel they can say anything to you and that you will listen calmly and validate what they have to say.
Unite both sides - Sometimes it may be very difficult to interact with the person you are divorcing. However, kids need to see their divorced parents working through difficult times together. It will not only teach them that they, too, can work with people they don't particularly like, but it will also help in times when decisions need to be made. From schooling, to health issues, to friends and discipline, many issues will arise as your kids grow up. If divorced parents can present a united front, kids will be less confused and won't be as inclined to play both sides to their own advantage.
Affirmation - When parents divorce, adults know that children are not to blame, and yet kids may take that emotional responsibility on themselves. With that in mind, parents on both sides should constantly and consistently affirm their love and approval for their children. Reassure them that the divorce had nothing to do with anything they did and is not something a kid could have caused. Kids can develop anxiety and unfounded fears from the stress of a divorce. Parents should be aware that part of their kids' anxiety may stem from a misplaced sense of blame.
Although divorce is often complicated and difficult, not every kid automatically will grow up damaged from it.