Most divorcing parents feel overwhelmed, scared, angry, hurt, and, most of all, worried about their children. Unfortunately, divorce does cause a great deal of stress for children. Kids are full of fear over the changes they are experiencing, and often worry they are the reason their parents are getting divorced. The good news is there is a lot parents can do to help their children as they transition through this difficult time.
In the short-term, when kids are struggling to process the news of the divorce, parents can help their kids by:
- Understanding it’s normal for kids to be stressed during the divorce process. Try not to get stressed because the kids are stressed!
- Validating the kids’ feelings about the divorce. “I know you feel sad,” or, “I understand you miss seeing your mom everyday like you used to.” Kids need to hear it’s okay to feel how they feel.
- Encouraging honesty. The kids may feel guilty about having fun with dad and his new girlfriend. While hearing this may be hurtful for mom, it’s important kids know they can always be honest with both parents.
- Asking the kids what they think would make them feel better. Sometimes the only answer may be that mom and dad back together, and that’s okay. Try to offer simple ideas like taking a walk, watching a movie together, or calling the other parent.
- Keeping a regular routine, especially for younger children. Routine and consistency give kids tremendous security and comfort.
- Repeatedly reassuring them they are not the cause of the divorce and that both parents will always love them, no matter what.
It’s comforting to know that research proves that most children are resilient and able to deal with their parents’ divorce constructively by maintaining an open, healthy relationship with each parent. This is especially true for children whose parents are able to resolve their major conflicts within a year or two after separation, and develop a cooperative and flexible co-parenting relationship over time. These children are unaffected, or only mildly impacted, by their parents’ divorce.
However, about 25% of parents are considered “high-conflict.” These parents are each well-adjusted and caring parents separately, but the relationship between them is toxic. It’s nearly impossible for high-conflict parents to develop a cooperative co-parenting relationship. Parallel parenting is the best option for high-conflict parents.
In parallel parenting, the parents disengage from one another, have minimal communication, and make separate parenting decisions when possible. If parents are unable to develop a parallel parenting relationship, and the conflict continues, they put their children at risk of developing long-term physical and mental health problems. A parenting consultant can help parents who are struggling to develop an effective parallel parenting relationship.
Erin Kassebaum is a parenting consultant, mediator, and coach in Bloomington. Please feel free to contact Erin with any comments or questions at 612.599.8366, or firstname.lastname@example.org.