Divorce isn’t easy, especially if children are involved. Whether two or 12, helping your kids cope with the split is vital to their academic, social and emotional futures. Offer reassurance, love and stability as you break the news and adjust to your new lifestyle:
Break the News
Make the conversation easier by preparing significantly before sitting down to talk. Whether alone or with your ex, consider what you’ll say, anticipate tough questions and know how you’ll address changes and hard topics. When you tell your kids about the divorce, be extremely clear that it isn’t their fault, and they couldn’t have prevented it. Say and repeat “I love you” and let them know that hasn’t and won’t change. While you should be honest, be mindful of how much information to share. Think of their age and maturity level, and how well they’ll be able to process everything at once.
How you break the news is important, but even more so is how you respond to your children’s feelings about the divorce. Listen, don’t judge and help them find words to express themselves. Let them be honest, and acknowledge feelings. Depending on the child, some children may react emotionally and need to be assured they aren’t lost or being left alone. Others may immediately be interested in knowing if they’ll have to switch schools or who will take them to basketball practice. According to the Mayo Clinic, younger children may respond by regressing to behavior they have outgrown, such as bed wetting or sucking on their thumb. Some days your children may seem to “get it” and other times they may seem unsure or confused.
A United Front
Try to have a united front and show that you’re their loving parents, whether you’re a couple or not. Show restraint when the urge to criticize or overshare arises. Don’t bad mouth your ex or pester your child for information about their mother or father. How you handle the ongoing situation, no matter how rough it may be, will show your child how to handle challenging social experiences or personal relationships in the future.
Consistency and New Routines
While adjusting to life after divorce, it may be tempting to spoil your kids by not enforcing limits or by allowing them to break the rules. As much as you can, try to maintain consistency in the home. Re-establish old schedules, such as helping them with homework after dinner, and enact new routines where necessary. Kids generally feel more safe and secure when they know what to expect. Inevitably things change with divorce. Schedules are reorganized, and you or your spouse will move out. If you apply for a job or your kids start at a new school, help them feel secure in a new routine by openly talking about expectations and establishing new guidelines.
Whenever you’re with your child, encourage them to stay in contact with their other parent. Often children of divorce feel like they can’t openly love their father when they’re in the presence of their mother, or vice versa. As children develop emotionally, they need both parents to depend on for help, advice and non-judgmental listening. Make it clear in your words and actions that you want your child to have a strong relationship with your ex. If possible, plan family gatherings on birthdays or over holidays. If you and your ex can’t interact without hostility, Web MD suggests using a family therapist or professional mediator to help you develop a more friendly communication style.