Divorce can be tough, especially for children who don’t know why it is happening, what it means, and whether they are the cause of it. The children’s parents can work together on a few things to lessen the impact of divorce on their children.

The following information was gathered from multiple sources, including my experiences handling child custody cases, things taught to me by mental health professionals, and my reading of available literature on the subject.

1. If possible, both parents should sit down together with their children to break the news about the divorce. This will minimize the risk of one parent portraying the other as the “bad guy” and reduce the temptation to use the children as allies or confidants at such an emotional time. It will also lay a groundwork that will help the children progress through the denial phase. In addition, you will demonstrate that you’re still co-parenting.

2. Be ready to answer (to the extent possible) younger children’s logistical questions about where they will live, who will take care of them, and how much time they will spend with each parent. Older teens should have a voice in determining their living arrangements.

3. Assure the children that they did not cause the divorce, and likewise, that they cannot change their parent’s decision, no matter how much they may wish mom and dad could stay together. Emphasize that your decision was not made on a whim.

4. Spare the gory details. Provide an honest, but age-appropriate, explanation for your break-up, such as “Mommy and Daddy will be happier living in different houses.” Children who have no rationale for their parents’ split are more likely to blame themselves.

5. Acknowledge that the divorce will be painful for everyone, and apologize to the children for disrupting their lives. Again, assure them that the split-up is not their fault.

6. Make a commitment to them to preserve their relationships with both parents and with members of their extended family. Assure the children that both parents will always love them, and that they can contact the other parent at any time.

7. Alert teachers and other care givers to your announcement so that they can help watch for signs of emotional stress in your children.

8. If possible, don’t move or change schools simultaneously with the divorce. Losing a parent plus their home, teachers, and friends is more than you should expect children to handle.

9. Remember that the longer and harder you fight each other, the less time and energy you have for parenting your children. Some experts say that it’s not the divorce so much as its accompanying disruption in parenting that does the real damage. For this reason and others, the wisdom of engaging in a protracted custody battle should be considered. Sometimes the children really do need to have a court make custody orders that the parents cannot agree to on their own. And sometimes the parents can come-up with a suitable child custody arrangement on their own without battling it out in court.

10. Allow your children to grieve the divorce. Let them know it’s okay to cry.

11. Realize that your children are acutely aware of your pain and are likely striving to not trouble you further. For this reason, they tend to bury their own pain and anger. Try to provide your children with a peer support group or other safe place where they can express their feelings.

12. Be open to the notion of seeking counseling, for yourself and your children, not only at the time of the divorce, but anytime they need it. The danger signs are: a) problems that get worse over time instead of better, b) drastic changes, and c) continuous extreme behavior, whether it’s acting out or being “the perfect child.”

13. For the good of your children’s self-esteem, avoid denigrating your ex-spouse in their presence, and ask members of the extended family to do the same. If you have nothing positive to say about your ex, try to put your children in contact with someone who does. The children do not need to know “the truth,” if that truth is negative about the other parent. Hearing negative things about a parent affects a child’s happiness. So, there is no legitimate reason to bad-mouth the other parent; even if that bad-mouthing is truthful.  If your ex is truly a horrible person, it’s likely that your children will discover this fact on their own over time.

14. If the children point out your ex-spouse’s faults and question you about them, validate their feelings, By saying something like “I can see that you are upset.” You can also tell them that both parents are doing the best that he/she knows how.

By following these steps, you will be helping your children adjust to their new living situation. I will write more on this topic later.

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