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Children and Divorce Helping Kids Cope with Separation and Divorce For children, divorce can be an especially sad, stressful, and confusing time. At any age, kids may feel shocked, uncertain, or angry at the prospect of mom and dad splitting up. They may even feel guilty, blaming themselves for the problems at home. Divorce is never a seamless process, but these tips can help your children cope with the upheaval of a breakup and come out the other side more resilient, more understanding, and even with a closer bond to both parents. How can I help my child through divorce? A separation or divorce is a highly stressful and emotional experience for everyone involved, but it can often feel to your children that their whole world has been turned upside down. Your patience, reassurance, and listening ear can minimize tension as your children learn to cope with unfamiliar circumstances. By providing routines your kids can rely on, you remind them that they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. And by maintaining a working relationship with your ex, you can help your kids avoid the stress and anguish that comes with watching parents in conflict. With your support, your kids can not only successfully navigate this unsettling time, but even emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong. What your child wants from mom and dad during a divorce I need both of you to stay involved in my life. Please call me, email, text, and ask me lots of questions. Please stop fighting and work hard to get along with each other. Try to agree on matters related to me. When you fight about me, I think that I did something wrong and I feel guilty. I want to love you both and enjoy the time that I spend with each of you. Please support me and the time that I spend with each of you. If you act jealous or upset, I feel like I need to take sides and love one parent more than the other. When you say mean, unkind things about my other parent, I feel like you are expecting me to take your side. Please remember that I want both of you to be a part of my life. I count on my mom and dad to raise me, to teach me what is important, and to help me when I have problems. University of Missouri How to tell kids about divorce When it comes to telling your kids about your divorce, many parents freeze up. What to say and how to say it Difficult as it may be to do, try to strike an empathetic tone and address the most important points right up front. Give your children the benefit of an honest—but kid-friendly—explanation. Your kids are entitled to know why you are getting a divorce, but long-winded reasons may only confuse them. Let them know that together you can deal with each detail as you go. This can be especially difficult when there have been hurtful events, such as infidelity, but with a little diplomacy, you can avoid playing the blame game. Present a united front. As much as you can, try to agree in advance on an explanation for your separation or divorce—and stick to it. Make plans to talk with your children before any changes in the living arrangements occur. And plan to talk when your spouse is present, if possible. Be respectful of your spouse when giving the reasons for the separation. How much information should I give my child about the divorce? Think carefully about how certain information will affect them. In general, younger children need less detail and will do better with a simple explanation, while older kids may need more information. No matter how much or how little you decide to tell your kids, remember that the information should be truthful above all else. Help your child grieve the divorce For kids, divorce can feel like an intense loss—the loss of a parent, the loss of the family unit, or simply the loss of the life they knew. You can help your children grieve their loss and adjust to new circumstances by helping them express their emotions. Encourage your child to share their feelings and really listen to them. They may be feeling sadness, loss or frustration about things you may not have expected. Help them find words for their feelings. You can help them by noticing their moods and encouraging them to talk. Let them be honest. Children might be reluctant to share their true feelings for fear of hurting you. Let them know that whatever they say is okay. Make talking about the divorce an ongoing process. As children age and mature, they often have new questions, feelings, or concerns about what happened, so you may want to go over the same ground again and again. You may not be able to fix their problems or change their sadness to happiness, but it is important for you to acknowledge their feelings rather than dismissing them. You can also inspire trust by showing that you understand. Let kids know they're not at fault Many kids believe that they had something to do with the divorce, recalling times they argued with their parents, received poor grades, or got in trouble. To help your kids let go of this misconception: Set the record straight. Repeat why you decided to get a divorce. Sometimes hearing the real reason for your decision can help. As often as you need to, remind your children that both parents will continue to love them and that they are not responsible for the divorce. Give reassurance and love Children have a remarkable ability to heal when given the support and love they need. Your words, actions, and ability to remain consistent are all important tools to reassure your children of your unchanging love. Both parents will be there. Let your kids know that even though the physical circumstances of the family unit will change, they can continue to have healthy, loving relationships with both of their parents. Physical closeness—in the form of hugs, pats on the shoulder, or simple proximity—has a powerful way of reassuring your child of your love. When kids raise concerns or anxieties, respond truthfully. Help your kids adjust to change by providing as much stability and structure as possible in their daily lives. But creating some regular routines at each household and consistently communicating to your children what to expect will provide your kids with a sense of calm and stability. The comfort of routines Kids feel safer and more secure when they know what to expect next. Maintaining routine also means continuing to observe rules, rewards, and discipline with your children. Resist the temptation to spoil kids during a divorce by not enforcing limits or allowing them to break rules. Take care of yourself The first safety instruction for an airplane emergency is to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child. When it comes to helping your kids through your divorce, the take home message is: Coping with your divorce or breakup The breakup of a relationship can trigger all sorts of painful and unsettling emotions. As well as grieving the loss of your relationship, you may feel confused, isolated, and fearful about the future. Exercise often and eat a healthy diet. And although cooking at home or learning to cook for one involves more effort than ordering in, eating healthfully will make you feel better , inside and out—so skip the junk and convenience food. Dealing with a Breakup or Divorce: Moving on After a Relationship Ends See friends often. It may be tempting to hole up and not see friends and family who will inevitably ask about the divorce—but the reality is that face-to-face support from others is vital to relieving the stress of a breakup and getting you through this difficult time. Writing down your feelings, thoughts, and moods can help you release tension, sadness, and anger. Seek support At the very least, divorce is complicated and stressful—and can be devastating without support. Never vent negative feelings to your child. Whatever you do, do not use your child to talk it out like you would with a friend. Try to inject humor and play into your life and the lives of your children as much as you can; it can relieve stress and give you all a break from sadness and anger. If you are feeling intense anger, fear, grief, shame, or guilt, find a professional to help you work through those feelings. Work with your ex Conflict between parents—separated or not—can be very damaging for kids. The following tips can save your kids a lot of heartache. Take it somewhere else. Ask your ex to talk another time, or drop the conversation altogether. Be polite in your interactions with your ex-spouse. This not only sets a good example for your kids but can also cause your ex to be gracious in response. Look on the bright side. Choose to focus on the strengths of all family members. Encourage children to do the same. Make it a priority to develop an amicable relationship with your ex-spouse as soon as possible. Watching you be friendly can reassure children and teach problem-solving skills as well. Resolving parenting conflicts with your ex If you find yourself, time after time, locked in battle with your ex over the details of parenting, try to step back and remember the bigger purpose at hand. Having a good relationship with both parents throughout their lives. Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced Parents: Making Joint Custody Work Think ahead in order to stay calm. The happiness of your children, yourself, and, yes, even your ex, should be the broad brushstrokes in the big picture of your new lives after divorce. Professional help for kids following divorce Some children go through divorce with relatively few problems, while others have a very difficult time. If your kids remain overwhelmed, though, you may need to seek professional help.
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