Going through divorce for most parents means endless worry about their children. There’s no avoiding the pain children go through, and chances are you will see changes in their behavior as they come to terms with a new normal.
But you can help mitigate some negative fallout from divorce by being mindful of your children’s needs and your own behavior, said Dr. Laura Rocker, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in the Division of Pediatric Psychiatry and Psychology at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“Children may feel they are responsible. Parents really need to specifically address that,” Dr. Rocker said. “It’s very important to reassure children it’s not their fault.”
Dr. Rocker has a number of other tips for parents:
- Keep your emotions in check around your children. Avoid open conflict and negativity. When alone with your kids, don’t trash the other parent or blame him or her. You’re not doing your kids any favors by sharing your feelings about your ex or soon-to-be ex, tempting as it may be. Don’t try to get kids to take sides.
“If you think you’re winning the parents sweepstakes, it’s not going to last,” Dr. Rocker said. “It’s essential to remember children need both of their parents, and to support that.”
- Along those lines, try to work with the other parent when it comes to the kids. Make important decisions together, and recognize that it’s vitally important for both parents to stay engaged in their children’s lives.
- Keep disruptions to your kids’ routines to a minimum.
- Provide opportunities for your kids to talk about their feelings. It’s okay to ask them periodically how they are feeling. But kids often don’t divulge on demand. Make sure you have unstructured time together, which encourages kids to open up. If your kids are upset and want to vent, be a good listener, validate their feelings and help them put their anger into words.
“Like with every other subject, you want to provide a platform for them to talk,” Dr. Rocker said. “One reason to not trash your ex is it makes it hard for your kids to talk about it.”
- Understand that kids will likely display some behavioral issues, such as bed-wetting, temper tantrums, increased fighting with siblings or problems at school. These changes should be temporary. But you should talk to your pediatrician or seek counseling for your child if problems persist.
“There’s no way to divorce and not have kids experience negative feelings,” Dr. Rocker said. “It’s a big stress for kids, and just like adults, kids regress when they are under stress.”