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Kids Coping With Divorce

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How to Ease the Effects of Divorce on Children

Even in homes where a marriage has been unhappy, children may not want their parents to divorce because they fear for their own security. From a child's point of view, the world is being torn in two. Try to see your child's perspective, so you'll be less likely to pressure her to disguise her feelings. Your child is more likely to thrive in a happy, calm environment than one that's tense and angry -- even if her parents are divorced.

Experts say that divorce does not have to cast a shadow over your children's entire lives, or keep them from having healthy relationships of their own in the future. As pediatric psychologist Elizabeth Ozer of the University of California, San Francisco, says, "The divorce of parents is a major life event, and it is something a child will be coping with well into adulthood. Having said that, kids can and do thrive after their parents' divorce. As a parent, your role is to do all you can to help your child weather  his transition."

Most experts agree that two factors influence how well children cope with divorce:

  • The level of hostility and conflict between parents
  • Parental acceptance and adjustment to the break-up

Use these two guideposts in the months ahead as you and your ex-partner begin to set up separate lives. If you have a hostile relationship, or if either of you is having trouble accepting the break-up, take steps to improve the situation -- with professional help if necessary -- to help your child cope with divorce.

Susan S. Coats, a family law attorney in Marin County, California, who specializes in dispute resolution for families, urges divorcing parents to focus on the positive as they set about creating new lives. "Something is ending, yes, but at the same time you are starting something new," she says. "For your child's sake, you need to work as hard as you can to create two new families, and it will take both parents to make sure that the new families flourish."

Conversations to Help Kids Cope With Divorce

How you tell children about an impending divorce will have a lot to do with your child's age, your living situation, and the degree of tension between you and your ex.

If you have older children, give them some time to get used to the news by talking to them at least a month before you and your ex begin living apart. If your child is a toddler, you can wait to talk until a week or so before any big changes, since kids this age have little sense of time. Even very young children will be reassured if you acknowledge the upcoming change, even if they can't yet understand the precise meaning of your words.

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