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Parents: How to Help Children Through a Divorce

Obviously a divorce is a significant loss to many of the husbands and wives who have to go through with it.  But even more so, divorces can affect the wellbeing, psychological health, and emotional development of children of a marriage.  The following are some ways in which parents can help minimize the negative effect divorce can have on their children.

Distinguish the Parent/Parent and Parent/Child Relationships

Remind the child that it’s not their fault.  Highlight the difference between the relationship between both parents and the relationship each parent has with the child. 

On a related note, continue to maintain an active and positive parent/child relationship after the divorce.  A child still needs this from both parents, even after a divorce. Emphasize that both parents will continue to love and care for the child.

Keep Divorce and Post-Divorce Conflict to a Minimum 

This may be the most important predictor of eventual outcome for the children.  Yes in many cases there are bitter, unresolved feelings between the parents.  These feelings often make it easy to fall into the trap of lashing out at the other parent or speaking badly of the other parent.  This is particularly harmful if it’s done in front of the child.  Generally, follow the age-old adage: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Often, a divorce resolved through alternative dispute resolution, like mediation, and coupled with a parenting plan agreement made by both parents can help reduce the sense of anger and “loss” associated with a full-blown divorce trial.  This can help the parents avoid much of the anger and resentment and make it easier to be at least civil with the other parent.   These alternative methods to trial are highly recommended in most cases.

Stand United, If Possible

Remember, parenting doesn’t end with the divorce.  In many children’s eyes their mother and father are a cohesive unit who they refer to as “my parents”, not necessarily “my mom” and “my dad”. 

Imagine the difficult choices a child may face if placed in a situation in which the child is keenly aware of the anger between both parents.  The child may often be worried about showing preference for one parent by showing affection to one first or more often.  Children should never have to make those choices.

Communicate Openly and Directly with the Other Parent

Parents should negotiate with each other regarding how they will resolve any parental disputes in the future.  This may involve some form of direct negotiation or alternative dispute resolution.  Generally, unless a child is endangered, going back to court should be a last resort of the parties.

In addition, communication should be direct between the parents whenever possible (situations with domestic abuse would be the notable exception).  Children should not be used as shuttle messengers between the parents.

You Don’t Divorce Your Children

Remember, you never stop being a parent.  A child deserves the best efforts of both parents to help them develop into an emotionally health and happy adult.

 

 

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