We all want to protect our kids from trauma, even if some of it is unavoidable. It’s true that many children find their parents’ divorce to be traumatic, but there are some practical ways to reduce the upset and protect your kids’ emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Here are five tips that will start you down the right path:
1. Be honest and open, but be careful what you say. Far too many parents underestimate their children’s ability to understand complex issues. Be clear about what’s going on and don’t throw up barriers to communication. At the same time, don’t air your grievances. Try to agree with your spouse on how you will break the news.
2. Explain that it’s not their fault. It’s incredibly common for kids to conclude that they have done something to cause the divorce. They need to hear from you that that isn’t true. Let them know that there is nothing they could have done to prevent the divorce and that there is nothing they can do to get you back together.
3. Go over the practical details. From the beginning and throughout the divorce, kids are bound to have lots of questions. They will want to know if one parent is moving out, and whether that means a second bedroom in a new home. They will want to know if they will be changing schools or dropping out of activities. How will holidays and vacations work? Your child has a right to know how the divorce will affect them practically. It’s a matter of feeling safe within their world. Don’t leave them in the dark.
4. Keep your kids out of the dispute. It’s incredibly tempting to tell your children about what horrible things your ex has done, if only to share your side of the story. When your ex messes up, it’s easy to justify a few bad words. Don’t do it. Your child will feel like they are being forced to pick sides. Whatever you do, avoid arguing in front of your children.
5. Watch for symptoms of distress. It’s normal for your kids to be full of strong emotions when it comes to your divorce. There’s nothing wrong with feeling strong emotions, but kids may struggle with anger, frustration, confusion or anxiety. They may experience stress or even depression. Common signs that you need to intervene, such as by calling in a child psychologist, include:
- Emotional outbursts and mood swings
- Feeling guilty
- Lack of interest in things that previously brought pleasure
- A sudden change in academic performance
- Destructive behavior
- Sleep dysregulation
Do your best to work together with your children’s other parent to resolve the problem.