Divorce can be wrenching when kids are involved, but there's a lot you can do to help children cope. If you're a parent dealing with divorce, try to remember that your child needs you now more than ever. Offering reassurance, hope, and a sense of stability can help ease the effects of divorce on children of all ages.
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Isolina Ricci, PhD, a family therapist and author of Mom's House, Dad's House, says, "When children are free to love both of their parents without conflict of loyalty, to have access to them both without fear of losing either, they can get on with the totally absorbing business of growing up, on schedule."
Use these nine tips to help minimize the negative effects of divorce on your kids:
Don't confide in your children about adult concerns like disagreements with your spouse or money worries. Find a friend or therapist to confide in instead.
Don't "bad mouth" your ex. If you have a dispute with your ex-spouse, don't expose your children to your conflicts and frustration.
Don't quiz your child about the other parent or what goes on at the other parent's house. It's fine to ask general questions about your child's time there, but don't snoop.
Don't introduce major changes in your child's life if you can help it. Try to keep to your usual family routines and community ties.
Do continue to parent as you always have. You may feel guilty that your kids have to cope with divorce, but it won't help to shower them with special gifts or let them stay up late. They'll feel more secure if you're firm and consistent.
Do encourage kids to call the other parent when they have news or just to chat. Keep the other parent informed about school events and other activities.
Do learn more about how to help your child cope with divorce. Many national organizations can help families understand the effect of divorce on children, such as the San Francisco-based nonprofit Kids' Turn, which offers workshops for kids and parents.
Do get help for a child having trouble coping with divorce. A young child may show regressive behavior like excessive clinginess or bedwetting, while an older child may become angry, aggressive, withdrawn, depressed, or have problems in school. A therapist can provide a safe place for your child to express his or her feelings.
Do seek help if you and your ex can't interact without hostility. A family therapist or professional mediator can help you develop a more friendly communication style -- one with fewer negative effects on your kids.
Since you may have years of co-parenting ahead of you, learning to get along with your ex may be the greatest gift you can give your child -- and the best way to help your child cope with divorce.