The average adult has a difficult time coping with the stress brought on by a divorce, so just imagine how children must feel when their lives are forever changed by the split. The reaction from children is usually dependent on a number of different factors, with age and personality playing major roles. The situation in the home can also play a role in how well they handle the situation, especially if they have been subjected to yelling and screaming adults going at each other for an extended period of time. Children are going to be negatively affected when a divorce takes place, but you can limit the damage by helping them through it.
The most important thing to do is to ensure that fighting and legal wrangling are saved for private moments when the kids are not present. Get a babysitter and schedule a time to talk. You would be surprised at how much your kids actually hear when you think they are not listening or in another room.
Deciding when to tell them is also important, especially if you are unsure that a divorce is definitely the way you want to go. It is often best to have papers drawn up and the legal aspects decided upon before breaking the news. When you do sit them down to tell them, you should try to do so as a couple. This will allow them to see that both of their parents will still be present in their lives even after the family home is divided.
Once the news has been broken, you need to pay attention to how they behave over the coming days and weeks. While some children will be visibly upset from the start, others may internalize their feelings and begin to act out in ways that are totally out of character. If you get the sense that they are not handling things as well as you had hoped, it may be a good idea to schedule an appointment with a therapist who has experience in dealing with children who are having a hard time coping with the divorce of their parents. Sometimes a therapist can meet with you individually or you as co-parents to give ideas on how to help your child navigate their feelings and their experience. Other times, it may be necessary for your child to attend therapy themselves.
One of the most effective ways to minimize the impact on the lives of your children is to stick to their regular daily routine as closely as possible. While there are some aspects of that which are sure to change, the more things that you can maintain the status quo with, the better. Refrain from talking about the divorce over and over again, unless of course they have specific questions that they need answered. Blame should never be laid when answering those questions, as most of the time all they are really looking for are reassurances that things are going to be okay during and after the divorce proceedings.
While it can be difficult to maintain an amicable relationship with your soon to be ex-spouse, try to do so as much as you can, especially in front of the children. Make it clear that you will both continue to play a role in their lives, and that you will both be there as needed. If you need some more advice on how to handle your divorce in a way that will be as gentle on the children as possible, talk to a couple’s therapist in your area. They can help you navigate the turbulent waters that always come with divorce.
If you are looking for an individual therapist or couples therapist in Long Beach, Lakewood or the surrounding areas, please give me a call to ask me a question or to set up an appointment.