Divorce: Tips for Helping Kids Cope

parent and child holding hands
Image via Katie Hurley

Thousands of kids are forced to cope with the stress of divorce each year.  Divorce affects each member of the family, and kids tend to have a number of different reactions. 

The initial reactions to news of divorce might include frustration, anger, sadness, shock, and/or worry.  Over time, these reactions can build into resentment, depression, and/or anxiety if kids do not receive adequate support.  When supported through the process, kids can learn to manage stress, handle conflict, and become more flexible.

There are a few steps parents can take to help children cope with this difficult transition.

Tips for helping kids cope with divorce:

Present a united front:

When it comes to parenting children through divorce, working together is crucial.  Chances are things are heated when a separation occurs, but that doesn’t mean that the kids need to have their worlds completely uprooted.

  • Have heated conversations, legal talk, and chatter about big parenting decisions away from the kids.
  • Try to maintain the established daily routine in both homes.  If you don’t already have one – create one.  Routine helps decrease stress and anxiety.
  • Avoid blaming and making negative comments about the other parent in front of the kids.  They still love both parents.
  • Keep each parent involved in the day-to-day lives of the kids.  Big art show coming up at school?  Both parents should be there.

{ MORE: When Parents Argue: Tips for Fighting Fair }

Put honesty first:

It can feel like pouring salt into a wound when kids start asking the same difficult questions over and over again.  But kids need to be able to be honest and get some answers.

Honest, of course, doesn’t mean shouting all of your negative feelings about your former spouse in a single sentence.  Honest means brief and age-appropriate answers.  It’s perfectly acceptable to respond with, “I don’t know” or “let me think about that question and get back to you” if a question has you stumped or upset.  Just be sure to follow up with that answer.

It’s important to make sure that kids are not blaming themselves for the divorce. Talk often with your kids. Engage them in art projects. Play together. Read together. Do whatever you can to get them talking.

Empathize with your child:

Kids need to know that their feelings are both normal and acceptable.  Saying things like, “I know it’s hard with daddy living somewhere new” or “you must feel really sad and lonely right now” lets your child know that you understand and you are willing to listen.

It’s important to be a really good listener, even if what your child is saying stirs up your own negative emotions.

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Be aware of how kids process:

Some kids get their feelings out every chance they get.  Loud tantrums or meltdowns help them get their stress out.  As exhausting as it is for the parent, it helps the child process.  Be there for them.  Hold them close.  Let them have their meltdowns and teach them how to cope with frustration.

Other kids internalize their emotions.  They hold their feelings in until they finally begin to unravel.  These are the kids who tend to engage in self-blame.  It’s important to make sure that kids are not blaming themselves for the divorce.  Talk often with your kids.  Engage them in art projects.  Play together.  Read together.  Do whatever you can to get them talking.

Get help:

You have to take care of yourself if you stand a chance of taking care of your kids.  You are going through something life changing and extremely emotional.  Seek counseling so that you have a safe place to vent and work through your own emotions. 

Prioritize sleep.  Make healthy food choices.  And get your exercise.  You will need your strength every step of the way.

 

What do you think?

Divorce: Tips for Helping Kids Cope

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. mamma says:

    I have 3 little ladies that I have from my previous marriage, and the one thing that I can say is be honest with your kids try to explain it on their level. be sure to keep out and personal feelings you have no matter how much your ex or soon to be ex acts like a child they still deserve to have a relationship with your child the divorce ended your relationship with them not with the children. Also don’t force your kids to go where they don’t want to go if they feel uncomfortable staying the night some where new with their non custodial parent it could make things worse for the transition. These are just a few things that have worked for me and my little ladies and we are still holding strong.

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