Divorce is often very painful and difficult for adults. For children it can be devastating, regardless of their age. With divorce comes the fear, uncertainty, and loss of security about their future.  Who will we live with? Will we move to a different house? Will I have to change schools? These are all questions that may be running through a child’s mind when parents divorce. Children may also feel that they have to choose sides, or they may feel caught in the middle when divorced parents are fighting. This adds additional stress and anxiety to the feelings the children may already be experiencing. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can help minimize the negative impact divorce can have on your children.

 1.  Communicate respectfully and never say negative things about the other parent (or at least not when your children can hear you), and keep arguments about adult matters far away from the kids!  Regardless of what your ex-spouse is like, or what your feelings are, remember that this is still their mother or father. Even small comments about the other parent can be devastating for children. Comments that to you seem relatively benign can cause your children to feel distressed and conflicted.

 2.  Set aside your own emotions. This is easier said than done. You may feel angry, hurt, sad, and a multitude of other feelings. However, your obligation is to protect your children from emotional harm. It is ok to briefly state that you feel sad the family is no longer together, but don’t go into detail about your feelings or expect your children to make YOU feel better. If you need to talk about your feelings regarding the divorce, choose a friend, family member, or therapist. Do not burden your children with adult feelings or responsibilities. 

 3. DO encourage your children to express what THEY are feeling. Let them know it is ok for them to be angry or sad. Don’t judge or criticize what they say, and do not interject with your own opinions, just be there to listen and support them.

 4.  Do not involve your children in the reasons “why” you are divorcing. Children do not need to know the details of why the marriage ended. However, they DO need to be told that the divorce was not their fault! Explain to them that what matters is that you are both still there to love them and that you will make decisions together based on what you feel is best for them.  Make it clear to your children that they do not need to take sides after the divorce.

 5.  Don’t question your children about the other parent or about what happens at the other parent’s house during their visitation. If they choose to talk about it on their own, just listen. Probing your children for details will cause them to feel more defensive, conflicted, and anxious. This may also backfire on you and lead to them siding with the other parent and alienating you. If you have safety concerns such as abuse, enlist in the aid of a professional A therapist, child protective services, or the police (if there is immediate concern) can all help in this type of situation.

 6.  Keep things as “normal” and predictable as you can. Keeping the children in the same home and same school is best for them, if at all possible. Keep visitation consistent and keep a calendar with the visitation schedule available for your children. Knowing where they will be staying each night helps provides your children with a sense of stability and security.

 7.  Spend time with your children. Although you may feel like you just want to hide and be alone, now is the time when you are needed the most by your children. Make this a priority.

 8. Most importantly, if your children are struggling because of the divorce don’t wait until behavioral or emotional problems escalate. Schedule a few sessions for your children with a therapist or school counselor. Or, find a divorce group for children. This will allow them to express their feelings with an objective person.

 The good news is that divorce does not need to create lifetime scarring for your children.  As parents, you have the ability to help manage the outcome the by putting the emotional and psychological needs of your children first. By doing this your children can adjust to the divorce and grow up to love and respect both of you.