No guide can guarantee a way to steer kids unscathed through a
. Every situation - and every family - is different. But some
commonsense guidelines might make the adjustment a bit easier.
These suggestions can make the process less painful for kids.
Parents will need to interpret them in their own ways; honesty,
sensitivity, self-control, and time itself will help the healing
process. Be patient - not everyone's timetable is the same.
Encourage kids to openly discuss their feelings - positive or
negative - about what's happening.
It's important for divorcing - and already divorced -
parents to sit down with their kids and encourage them to say what
they're thinking and feeling. But you'll need to keep this
separate from your own feelings. Most often, children experience a
sense of loss of family and may blame you or the other parent - or
both - for what they perceive as a betrayal. So, you'll really
need to be prepared to answer questions your kids might raise or to
address their concerns.
Make talking about the divorce and how it's affecting your
kids an ongoing process. As kids get older and become more mature,
they might have questions or concerns that they hadn't thought
of earlier. Even if it seems like you've gone over the same
topics before, keep the dialogue open.
If you feel like you get too upset to be of real help to your
kids, ask someone else (a relative, maybe) to talk to them. Group
programs for kids of divorce run by schools or faith-based
organizations are an excellent resource for kids going through
It's natural for kids to have many emotions about a divorce.
They might feel guilty and imagine that they "caused" the
problem. This is particularly true if they ever heard their parents
argue about them. Kids may feel angry or frightened, or worried
that they will be abandoned by or "divorced from" their
Although kids may struggle with a divorce for quite some time,
the real impact is usually felt over about a 2- to 3-year period.
During this time, some will be able to voice their feelings but,
depending on their age and development, other kids just won't
have the words. They may instead act out or be depressed. For
school-age kids, this is usually evident when their grades drop or
they lose interest in activities. For younger children, these
feelings are often expressed during play, too.
It may be tempting to tell a child not to feel a certain way,
but kids (and adults, for that matter) have a right to their
feelings. And if you try to force a "happy face," your
kids may be less likely to share their true feelings with you.
Don't bad-mouth your ex in front of the kids, even if
you're still angry or feuding.
This is one of the hardest things to do. But it's important
not to say bad things about your ex. Doing so often backfires and
kids get angry at the parent who is saying the bad things. No child
likes to hear a parent criticized, even if it is by the other
parent. It's equally important to acknowledge real events. If,
for example, one spouse has simply abandoned the family by moving
out, you need to acknowledge what has happened. It isn't your
responsibility to explain the ex-spouse's behavior - let him or
her do so with the kids.
Try not to use kids as messengers or go-betweens, especially
when you're feuding.
Kids don't need to feel that they must act as messengers
between hostile parents or carry one adult's secrets or
accusations about another. Don't question your child about what
is happening in the other household - kids resent it when they feel
that they're being asked to "spy" on the other
parent. Wherever possible, communicate directly with the other
parent about relevant matters, such as scheduling, visitation,
health issues, or school problems.
Expect resistance and difficulties as kids adjust to a new mate
or the mate's kids.
New relationships, blended families, and remarriages are among
the most difficult aspects of the divorce process. A new, blended
family doesn't eliminate the impact of divorce - in fact,
research shows that kids in these new families experience problems
similar to those who remain with a single parent.
So, it's important to assure kids that they still have a
mother and father who care for them and to help them blend into a
new family structure. Don't expect kids to accept a stepparent
as another parent right away, though - that will take time. The
initial role of a stepparent is that of another caring adult in a
child's life. Tell kids that the stepparent needs to be
respected the same way that they respect teachers, coaches, and
other adults who help them.
Seek support groups, friendships, and counseling. Single
parents need all the help they can get.
Support from clergy, friends, relatives, and groups such as
Parents Without Partners can help parents and their kids adjust to
separation and divorce. Kids can meet others who've developed
successful relationships with separated parents and can confide in
each other, while adults need special support through these trying
Whenever possible, kids should be encouraged to have as positive
an outlook on both parents as they can. Even under the best of
circumstances, separation and divorce can be painful and
disappointing for many kids.
And, of course, it's emotionally difficult for the parents.
So it's understandable that, despite their best intentions,
some parents might broadcast their pain and anger. But parents who
can foster a positive adjustment and good times, even during
difficult circumstances, will go a long way toward helping their
kids - and themselves - adapt and move on.
W. Douglas Tynan, PhD
Date reviewed: November 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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