Helping Children Through Divorce
No matter how old we are or where we are in our lives, there are unique stressors that come along with each developmental stage. At Iris, we believe that by being aware of these stressors, we can better prepare our mental health to thrive throughout every phase of our lives.
No one gets married planning to someday get divorced. But people change; they make mistakes; they grow apart. And sometimes, getting a divorce is the best option for everyone involved. But it’s an option that leaves many couples worrying, “How will it affect the kids?”
Although parental divorce can be hard for kids to go through, the emotional impact of it greatly depends on how their parents handle the divorce. There are ways that you can prioritize your child’s well-being in the divorce and minimize any negative effects.
How to help children through a separation or divorce:
- First and foremost, make sure that your children understand that they are absolutely not the reason for your divorce. This should be communicated to them in crystal-clear terms. Kids tend to internalize problems in their lives, so they may be blaming themselves even if you haven’t blamed them.
- Likewise, tell your children that there is nothing they can do (or could have done differently) to change the divorce. This is an adult problem.
- Choose a good time to tell your kids about the divorce. Don’t blurt it out during the heat of an argument. If possible, it’s best that both parents are present.
- Allow your child to have and express feelings about the divorce. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, even if their primary feeling is anger towards you. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to you, find another adult they can talk to.
- Never blame or talk badly about one another in the presence of your child. Be honest, but you also don’t need to get into the details of what caused your divorce. Tell your child only what they need to know (depending on their age and understanding).
- Keep up household routines while you’re going through a divorce. This is especially important if your child is now splitting their time between two homes. Predictability is key during any large life transitions.
- Get emotional support for yourself so that you can model healthy emotions about the divorce for your child.
- Most importantly, keep reminding your child of how much they are loved by both of you. Stress that no matter what, this love will never change.
Why is this important?
- Canada has the 27th highest divorce rate in the world.
- Parents’ divorce can bring up lots of feelings for kids, including anxiety, fear, guilt, anger, and grief. These feelings need to be honored and heard.
- Dealing with the divorce in negative ways, like talking badly about your ex-partner, can put your child in the middle of the divorce and make them feel like they need to choose sides.
- There are undoubtedly emotional, academic, and physical effects that children of divorce can face. But some children can be better off after a divorce, especially if the divorce saves them from a high-conflict home environment.
- Kids whose divorced parents practice cooperative parenting have fewer behavioral problems than kids whose divorced parents practice parallel or single parenting.
Click here to download this tip sheet in PDF format.
Amato, P., et. al (2011). Reconsidering the “good divorce.” Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2011.00666.x
Canadian Pediatric Society. Helping children cope with separation and divorce. https://caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/mentalhealth/separation_and_divorce
Child Mind Institute. Supporting kids during a divorce. https://childmind.org/article/supporting-kids-during-a-divorce/
Statistics Canada (2022). A fifty-year look at divorces in Canada, 1970 to 2020. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220309/dq220309a-eng.htm
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