First Steps to Help Your Children Deal with Your Divorce
No matter how well you handle the situation, your children will still feel pain, anger, sadness, frustration, and any other number of emotions. Use the following guidelines at the start of your divorce process to help your children adjust as well as they can.
Prepare Yourself to Tell Your Children about the Divorce
Once you and your spouse have reached the decision to separate, don't tell your children without planning ahead. Plan out what you will say with your spouse. You should give the news together, if possible, so your children can see that the decision is mutual.
Make Sure Your Children Know They are Loved
Your number one concern should be helping your children understand that the divorce is a decision between you and your spouse. Even older children can feel guilty when their parents split apart, as if their actions had something to do with the divorce.
You may not be able to immediately convince your children that the divorce is not their fault. However, you should take time to let them know they are loved. Just saying "I love you" can have a big impact.
Tell Your Children the Truth
Give an age-appropriate account of why you and your spouse no longer want to be married. You don't have to get into a detailed description of every problem you have, but you should make it clear that you two no longer want to be together. Don't leave the glimmer of hope that you and your spouse will make up if you have already made the decision to get divorced.
Explain How Your Children’s Lives will Change
Your children will want to know how your divorce will affect them. Explain that some things will be different, but that others will remain the same.
If you and your spouse will have joint custody, explain that certain weekends and holidays will be spent at one house, while weekdays will be spent at another house. Don't promise all the details at once, but give your children a general idea of how their lives will be different.
Listen to Your Children’s Response
After you've told your children about your decision to get divorced, invite them to express how they feel. Your child may feel angry, nervous, sad, frustrated, or anxious about matters you haven't even thought about. If you have more than one child, let your kids talk to each other about how they feel. Approach each child separately to evaluate his or her concerns.
If they choose not to tell you how they're feeling right away, give them space, but leave the opportunity to talk to you whenever they might need to.
Watch for Warning Signs of Emotional Trauma
Your children may not share how they're feeling with you. Some children may be afraid of hurting you, others may not be able to verbalize their pain. Watch for warning signs that your children aren't taking the news well.
Sometimes emotions express themselves in physical symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
Younger children may express anxiety by becoming demanding or clingy. Older children sometimes have behavioral problems like substance abuse, delinquency, or withdrawing from friendships.
Keep Your Relationship with Your Spouse Cordial in front of Your Children
No matter how angry you might get, don't start a shouting match in front of your children. Most children are aware of the tension their parents feel toward each other, but there's no need for your child to see you lose your temper in front of them. You want your children to feel stable in their relationships with you and your spouse.
This is especially important when you transfer your kids between you and your former spouse. If you pick up your kids for a visit, appear pleasant and cheerful for the hand off, even if you are upset about something your spouse has recently done.
Make it clear to your children that you're happy they're spending time with their other parent. You don't want to make your children feel guilty about spending time with someone else. You also don't want to make the situation so unpleasant that your former spouse stops spending time with your children.
Maintain a Routine as Much as Possible
In a transitional time, your children need stability. You can maintain stability by keeping their routines as predictable as possible. Schedule regular times for your children to spend time with your former spouse. If something comes up, accommodate your former partner as much as possible so your kids can have quality time with both of their parents.
Find Support Outside of the Family
Your divorce is going to take a toll on your emotions as well. No matter what, don't treat your child as a support for your mental stress. Use friends, family members, or a therapist to help you deal with your own unhappiness. Your children should not have to solve your problems as well as their own.
Find a Good Family Lawyer
One of the best ways to give your kids a clean start is to resolve the divorce process as quickly as possible. Hire a divorce lawyer who will put your children's interests first.
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