Divorce is a confusing time for children. They may have some understanding of what is going on depending on their age. They may have friends whose parents have gone through divorce and will relate to the experience through stories those friends have told them. Yet regardless of their age, they will notice that the family dynamic has changed. Younger children might fear that the divorce will break the family apart and that it will cause them to see one or both parents less often. Older children might fear the stigma of becoming children of divorce or may resent one of the parents who they feel may be causing the divorce. It is important to think about how all of your interactions with your children and your ex-spouse can be made to lessen this confusion and provide a supporting and positive environment for your children’s growth.
Here are 10 tips to protect your children during divorce:
#1 Never speak badly of your ex to or in front of your children
Your children see themselves as half of their other parent. If they hear you speak negatively about their other parent, they may associate with these negative statements and internalize them, which may lower their self-esteem. It could also cause them to resent the other parent if these statements lead them to believe that parent is the reason for the divorce or that they hurt you, and they may wish to distance themselves from that parent as a result.
#2 Encourage your children to spend as much time as possible with their other parent
Children benefit from relationships with both parents. This is true even where one parent isn’t able to take on as much of an active parenting role as the other. Remember that while your relationship with your ex has ended, your children have a life-long relationship with their parent that is completely independent of yours.
#3 Don’t argue with your ex in front of your children, especially about parenting issues
Arguing with your ex-spouse in front of your children might cause them to believe that they are the source of the tension in your relationship. When parents divorce, children often assume that it is their fault. Arguing, especially over parenting issues such as pick up and drop off times, decisions about what the children may be allowed to do, and so on, can heighten this fear for the children.
#4 Strive to develop a cohesive set of parenting rules with your ex
Agreeing on parenting rules isn’t always easy and it may have been a constant source of argument while you were together, but working to reach an agreement on parenting rules doesn’t end when you split up. It’s important that your children have similar expectations from both parents when it comes to setting boundaries.
#5 Make sure you and your ex are on the same page when it comes to explaining to the children what’s going on
You and your spouse might have very different interpretations of what led to your divorce and assign different levels of blame to each other, but don’t allow this to harm your children. Before you speak to your children, discuss with your ex how you are going to explain the divorce and make sure your explanations are consistent. Avoid getting into details, be sure that your children understand it is not their fault and that you both love them just the same, and try to give them the impression that this is a positive decision that will benefit the whole family.
#6 Establish a new routine for your children
Once new living arrangements have been established, try to create a new routine for your children as early as possible. Part of the negative emotions children experience during a divorce relates to the fear of uncertainty. Establishing a routine will help calm their fears by introducing a new sense of normalcy into their lives.
#7 Encourage your children to continue with their extra-curriculars and hobbies
Continuing with their extra-curriculars and hobbies is another way to bring normalcy to your children’s daily lives during this time of transition. These activities are also a source of happiness for your children and may provide a creative outlet or way to expend their energy during a confusing time.
#8 Check in with your children to see how they are handling the divorce
If you have younger children and are concerned about how they are handling the divorce, ask their teachers or daycare supervisors if they have noticed any change in behaviour. This might help put your anxieties at rest, or if there is an issue, help you to identify it and address it before it becomes a problem. Teenagers may be reluctant to express their feelings about the divorce but if they suddenly start acting out or you notice changes in their behaviour, this could be an indicator that they are struggling with the divorce. You should encourage them to be honest with you about their feelings and create a safe space of non-judgment where they feel comfortable sharing.
#9 Ask for your children’s input wherever possible
Older children will likely have opinions about how they want to divide their time with each parent, and while you should still encourage your children to see their other parent as much as possible, you must also respect their choices. While this is not necessarily true for younger children, you can still seek their input by finding out how this new schedule is working for your children. Do the pick up and drop off times make it difficult for your children to do their homework; does it interfere with their ability to spend time with friends; are they exhausted by exchanges that are too frequent? Be prepared to listen and accommodate.
#10 Leave the door open for your children to continue a relationship with their step-parent
If your ex is not your children’s biological parent but a step-parent, consider that they and your children may wish to continue a relationship with each other. This may be especially true for older children who have developed a close bond with their step-parent and who depend on them for love and support. Losing a step-parent completely from their lives could be devastating and could cause them to resent you for not allowing or helping to facilitate a relationship with that parent.
We hope this article “10 Tips to Make Divorce Easier for Children” helps answer your questions about divorce. You can find helpful resources on our page “Resources for Helping Children Deal with Divorce and Separation.” Should you have any questions or require mediation services in developing a parenting plan that has your children’s interests at heart, please contact us at 604-449-7779.