Divorce is never easy, but you can help minimize the negative impact it has on your children by following these tips.
Help kids visualize their “new” life
When you’re ready to tell your children about your impending divorce or separation, help them visualize what their life will be like with parents living in two separate homes. According to Dr. Lisa Gordon of The Family Institute at Northwestern University, children need to understand what separation actually means and doesn’t mean. You want to stress that they will continue to have a loving relationship with both parents and will spend time with both parents. Avoid hurtful details that cast one parent in a negative light.
Make both homes comfortable and welcoming
Regardless of the where each parent lives, both homes should feel cozy, familiar and welcoming for the children. If your divorce agreement stipulates that you move into a new home, make sure it’s filled with artifacts of your children’s lives including artwork, photos, and a family calendar. Encourage your children to help with the decorating, making it as homey and personal as possible.
Stick to routines and schedules
According to Debra Kowalczyk MA, LCPC of Counselors-in-Association, most children feel less anxious when they have consistency and structure in their lives. Divorced parents should work together to maintain a predictable schedule for their children, which includes sticking to regular routines and activities. You want your children to take comfort in knowing that many things in their lives will not change despite the divorce; including going to school, playing sports and doing homework.
Continue to Parent
When you are going through a divorce, it can be very tempting to “go easy” on your kids, by relaxing your rules and expectations. However, as Dr. Gordon points out, this can have a negative effect on your child. Children need their parents to be role models and set limits. By allowing your child to “act out” without consequence, you are conveying the message that nobody is in charge, which can be very frightening when everything else seems out of control.
Take the High Road
Refrain from badmouthing your ex in front of your children. According to Suzy Yehl Marta, founder of the grief support group Rainbows, anything you say will go straight through the heart of your children. Your job as a parent is to put your children’s interests first, even on your most frustrating days.
About Rainbows: Rainbows is a grief support group dedicated to “guiding kids through life’s storms.” Suzy Yehl Marta founded the organization after she realized there were a number of divorce support groups for adults but none for children. Rainbows offers free programs through many local schools and faith based communities. To learn more about Rainbows and other ways you can help kids cope with divorce, watch this video courtesy of the folks at iVillage: