While children in divorce often experience confusion, sadness, and depression, there are many in the community of psychologists remind us that our kids can also be resilient and hopeful during this difficult process. Here are four ways to help a child cope with divorce and all some of the challenges it presents.
- Keep the adult conversations to yourselves. No matter how important they may seem at the time, parents have to try to keep a lid on arguing about divorce-related issues in front of the kids. Imagine how confusing it can be for a child to make sense of complex financial issues at the dinner table, or to understand why Mom and Dad are seem so angry while they are talking about who should be spending time with them, and when. There are special times and places to discuss these and many other contentious issues, just not when the kids are around.
- Be sensitive to your children’s schedules and habits. One of the most difficult experiences for a child is having to leave their friends, grab their bags, and drive away to Mom or Dad’s house at a time otherwise known for playing. When you discuss parenting options, and the time that each parent may spend with children, it is helpful to the kids to consider how they will fit into the plan. Shifting schedules by an hour or so, one way or another, may not be as convenient for Mom and Dad, but it can make a world of difference in helping kids cope with divorce.
- Enlist their help – carefully. This is a touchy subject, and I would tread carefully around this one. Often, Mom and Dad need to sell the family home and start new independent lives in a new place. This can be very upsetting to the kids, but it can also be an experience they can be hopeful about. Consider sharing living options with them and bring them along on tours. Speak positively about how they can benefit from the move, while potentially staying connected to the old neighborhood. In the end, it will take time to adjust to a new home, but if they feel as though they participated in the process, it might be less stressful.
- Honor their voice. Parents should check in with kids with open-ended questions, not leading ones. Engage them gently to share their feelings. They don’t want it to be all about Mom and Dad, because it is not. What is happening includes them. By checking in from time to time, you’re reminding them that they are loved, that they matter, and that they are not just along for the ride.