Divorce is a messy subject. It involves strong emotions, difficult topics, and sometimes anger. This can make it one of the hardest things to deal with in life, even for adults. So for children, who are less emotionally mature and have fewer experiences, it can be exponentially harder.
But helping children deal with divorce isn’t impossible. With enough preparation, education, and care, you can help your child through this incredibly difficult time.
Remember that children of all ages need help dealing with divorce, whether they are three years old or 16. No matter their age, it’s a confusing thing that they aren’t prepared to deal with, and they need the support of both of their parents to get through it.
So how can you help your child deal with your divorce? Well, let’s take a look at a few tips.
Breaking the news
This might be the hardest part of helping children deal with divorce. In the moment when you first tell them, they will be confused and upset and may even lash out. It will be an emotionally charged situation, so you will have to do your best to maintain calm throughout it.
Once you are sure that divorce is the next step, and have made a plan with your spouse, it’s time to tell your child. Be prepared to answer all the questions they will likely have, such as who they will live with if they will have to move, how it might affect school, etc. Additionally, be sure to handle it with extreme care. Helping children deal with divorce involves being cautious so as to avoid saying the wrong thing, while also remaining open and honest.
The most important thing to tell your kid at this stage, and throughout the process, is that it is not their fault. You can explain to them that sometimes adults change the way they love each other, or disagree too much, or grow apart, but that the child is not at fault. And it won’t change the way that you love your child, either, so you should let them know this— they need to be reassured that they won’t be losing the love of either of their parents.
You should also avoid tossing blame around. Even if it may seem to you like one party holds all the blame, avoid saying this in front of your child. It will cause them to harbor feelings of resentment towards one or both parents, which will be detrimental to their relationship.
Another important part of helping children deal with divorce is creating a plan. This will help both you and your child feel prepared for what is coming. When you break the news, start discussing this plan. Consider moving services, where they will live, who might have custody, support systems, and other important parts of dealing with divorce.
Once you’ve broken the news, a big step will have been taken, and there’s no turning back. But there’s more that you need to do, both with your child and without, to help them deal with the divorce.
The legal stuff
Helping children deal with divorce often means knowing what not to tell them or include them in— and this is one of those things. No child deserves the pressure of having to deal with the complicated legal system of divorce. So, unless absolutely necessary, keep your child out of these conversations, and don’t discuss it around them.
However, doing this right is important in helping your child. If you get all the legal aspects well taken care of, it can mean a better and easier time for your kid.
There are lots of things to figure out here. How will custody be shared? This is when child custody lawyers can really help. You want to make sure that both parents and the child are treated fairly, so a healthy parent-child relationship can continue.
Hand in hand with custody is living arrangements. Who will the child live with primarily, or will it be split? You want to make sure that in any place they live, no matter for how long, they have a comfortable and warm living space that is suitable for your child.
During this stage, if applicable, ask your kid their thoughts. Don’t give them all the legal jargon. Just ask “who would you like to live with?” If they are mature enough for this question, it gives them a better sense of control throughout the process.
Then, there are the messier financial considerations that an attorney can really help with. Child tax credit, child support, financial obligations, bills, etc., are all things that need to be figured out to make sure your child is well taken care of.
Keeping your child healthy
While this is a turbulent time, helping children deal with divorce includes keeping them healthy. Don’t allow yourself to forget about normal health considerations while all of this other stuff is happening.
Right now, with Covid-19 still affecting most of the globe, this is even more important. Wearing masks, washing your hands, and maintaining social distance are still good practices, even while going to see a family lawyer.
Make sure to take your child to all regular checkups and appointments, and don’t hesitate to take them to the doctor if they start to show signs of illness. Keep them up to date on vaccines, and get them their regular physicals. If they have some kind of health condition, keep checking in with a doctor about it and don’t let it fall behind in the mess of divorce.
And, of course, don’t forget dental hygiene! A child dentist is just as important during these times as a divorce lawyer, at least to the health of your child.
Lastly, keeping yourself healthy is a part of helping children deal with divorce. If you get sick, there’s a high chance of your kid getting sick too. So one of the best ways you can protect them is to protect yourself.
There is a good chance that your kid may have to go through the moving process at least once during the divorce. If this is the case, you want to make sure that everything is handled as smoothly as possible, to give your child an easier transition.
Although it may be difficult, helping children deal with divorce includes giving them some freedoms. If they are mature enough and it is legally an option, it is a good idea to give them the choice of who they live with and whether or not they have to move. While it may seem like a lot of pressure for a child, it will help them feel more comfortable with whatever the outcome is.
While moving, make sure that your child doesn’t lose any of their important possessions, such as a beloved stuffed animal or comic book. These items will give them a source of comfort and familiarity while adjusting to a new environment.
If there’s anything that they need to get rid of for whatever reason, consider a full service recycling company. It’s better to recycle unwanted objects than to throw them in a trash heap. Mattress recycling is even an option, if you have an extra mattress you need to get rid of. Now might be the perfect time to invest in a new one.
Adjusting to a new living space is hard, so do your best to keep your kid comfortable during this time. A big way to do this is to set up good residential heating right away— no one wants to be caught in the cold. Comfort is a huge part of helping children deal with divorce, especially when we’re entering the cold months of winter.
Maintaining mental health
Mental health is perhaps the biggest aspect of helping children deal with divorce. Amidst all of the moving and legal documents and custody disputes, mental health is a constant presence that needs to be recognized.
Divorce can be devastating to a child’s mental health, so you should do everything in your power to help them stay mentally healthy. This is even more important with the current world of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of the US population says that the pandemic has been harmful to their mental health, which means it will be an even harder time for your child.
As before, avoid throwing blame around. This is especially harmful to a child’s mental health, as it can cause feelings of resentment. And it will be best for your child if they have two parents both loving and supporting them through this hard time.
Additionally, keep heated discussions and arguments away from the ears of your child. They don’t need to hear those things, as it can leave an imprint for the rest of their life, and affect the way they interact with you and others.
Throughout the entire process, keep an eye out for signs of mental illness. If you notice any worrying symptoms, don’t hesitate to get help. In fact, even if you aren’t worried about mental illness, a therapist can be a great option for your child during this time. They can act as someone to help your child process their emotions and feelings surrounding the divorce.
When helping children deal with divorce, encourage honesty and openness. Let them know that they can always talk to you, and help them put their feelings into words. The more they talk to you, the less they feel like they have to hide, and the better your relationship will be in the long run.
While talking to them, remind them that their feelings are always valid, if not necessarily healthy. They need to hear that what they are feeling is normal and ok to feel, so they don’t feel like an outsider. And provide them with healthy ways to manage those emotions, such as therapy, art, exercise, or other non-harmful ways of letting out emotion.
If your child has a pet, make sure they keep that relationship. Pets help children deal with emotionally turbulent times, so now is not the time for them to lose that contact. If they move away from the pet, arrange for them to have regular visits. And if the pet gets sick or injured, take them to a pet clinic right away. Losing a pet while also dealing with divorce can be incredibly hard on a child.
If you have more than one kid, and they are near the same age, consider getting kids bunk beds and having your kids share a room. This will give them someone else to talk to and share their feelings with during this time.
Lastly, consider getting yourself help. Therapists are not just for those with mental illness. They can help you process your thoughts and emotions, and figure out how to handle the situation. Sometimes helping children deal with divorce involves helping yourself first.
A happy family
Helping children deal with divorce is hard. In fact, it may be even harder than the divorce itself. But don’t despair, because there are ways that you can help your child get through this and remain strong and happy.
Remember to avoid using blame, and always remind your kid that it is not their fault and that you still love them all the same. Keep any adult conversations— arguments, legal discussions, and custody disputes— away from your child’s ears, as this can be harmful to them.
Encourage your child to be honest with you, and remind them that all of their feelings are valid. Help them put their feelings into words, and make sure they know that they can always talk to you.
And, of course, make sure that all the legal aspects are well taken care of. Keep the moving process as simple as possible. And make sure that your child is comfortable and well provided for.
If you do all of these things, helping children deal with divorce becomes a little bit easier. And don’t be afraid to get yourself help, either. The more prepared you feel, the better you can help your child. Hopefully, you can all come out on the other side with a strong parent-child relationship and a healthy and happy kid.