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Helping children cope with separation and divorce

Going through a divorce can be a difficult time for everyone in the family, especially children. Your child's emotions may go through stages of sadness, confusion, anger, guilt or worry. How you handle the changes will be important for your child's emotional well-being.

What should you tell your child about the separation or divorce?

  • Be honest but keep your child's age in mind. Younger children will need less detail, however older children may ask for more information. Tell your child only what they need to know and limit their involvement with a lawyer or others involved in the separation or divorce.

  • Reassure your child that they are not the cause of the separation or divorce. Explain to them that this is an adult problem and nothing your child could do to prevent it.

  • Explain to your child that you still love them and you will both go on being caring parents and that they will have time to spend with each parent (should that be the case).

  • Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. When they talk, listen carefully. Know that it maybe hard for your child to express their emotions or feelings. Answer any questions they may have as honestly as you can.

Helping your child adjust to the new changes

Parents play a major role in how children adjust to divorce. Every divorce will affect the kids that are involved. It's important to know that kids can come out of it better able to cope with stress, and many become more flexible, tolerant adults. The most important things parents can do for their children to adjust to the new changes are:

  • Keep a consistent routine. Kids feel safer and more secure when they know what to expect next. This also means observing consistent rules and discipline.

  • Maintain open communication & a healthy relationship with your child. A healthy parent-child relationship has been shown to help kids develop better academically & have higher levels of self confidence.

  • Watch out for any changes in behavior. Poor academics, an increase in risk taking behaviors, or a change in your child's level of anxiety or depression may be a serious sign they need to speak with a trained professional.

  • Maintain a working relationship with your ex spouse. By minimizing conflict (at least in front of your child) you can help them avoid the stress and anguish that comes with watching parents in conflict.

Know that your patience, reassurance and just listening can minimize your child's tensions as they learn to cope with the new changes in their life. Divorce is never a seamless process and most likely will not come without some measure of grief and hardship. But know that you can dramatically reduce your child's pain by making their well-being your number one priority.

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