10 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce
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Divorce can be a painful and confusing time in a family’s life. It's normal for children to experience a roller coaster of emotions — from sadness, loss, hurt and anger, to confusion, guilt, abandonment and withdrawal. Every child manages in her own way and heals at her own pace. However, there are a number of ways parents can help make coping during this difficult period of transition a little easier.
1. Provide Love and Reassurance
Reassure your child that you love her and that the divorce is not her fault. Patricia Brady, a licensed psychologist and divorce mediator who works with adults and children in Kendall Park, New Jersey, explains that the love a parent has for a child is a different kind of love than for a spouse. Children will often think, “If you stopped loving daddy, then will you stop loving me?” It's important for children to understand that you will never stop loving them. Although you and your spouse may have grown apart, your children should understand that you'll never outgrow or “divorce” your kids.
A parent’s relationship with a child can grow stronger after divorce. “Some parents begin to attend to the child more and make more deliberate efforts to spend time together,” Brady states. “The relationship can become very rich.”
Even if you're feeling hurt or overwhelmed right now, it's important to think beyond yourself and not to skimp on the love that your child needs from you. To reinforce your message of love, consider:
- Making a small photo book of your child from birth to present, writing a short caption underneath each picture stating why she is such a blessing in your life. Include a couple of milestones or memorable events that took place in each year of your child’s life.
- Tucking a special note into your younger child’s lunch box every now and then.
- Reading love-themed books together such as Guess How Much I Love You and How Do I Love You.
- Starting and ending each day with a hug, a kiss and “I love you.”
Not only is your open communication about the divorce key, but also, listening to your child is equally important. Give your child ample opportunity to talk about how she's feeling and to ask questions about the changes that are happening in the family. Find creative ways to help your child deal with her feelings and to reinforce togetherness and understanding. Keep in mind that your child may just need some time and space to sort things out for herself, so try to avoid forcing her to talk about the divorce if she's not up for it. Just having the chance to “hang out” with each parent, spend time with friends, or jot things down in a journal can be positive coping tools for your child. Ways you can facilitate dialogue include:
- One-on-one time: Make sure to carve out a few minutes from your daily schedule to find out about your child’s day and to be emotionally available to listen without interruptions.
- Peer interaction: Peers can be powerful sounding boards and supporters. Be sure that your child stays connected to trusted friends during this time, and consider scheduling “play dates” with friends who are going through or have gone through divorce themselves.
- Feelings journal/scrapbook: This is your child’s personal keepsake and can include drawings, journal entries, photos, mementos, anything that reflects how your child is feeling at a given time. Encourage your child to add to it often. She can choose to keep it private or she can share it with you; the decision is hers. If she does share her scrapbook with you, use it as a conversation starter, particularly with an introverted or withdrawn child, to get a read on how she's really doing.
- Read books on the topic: Brady notes that when kids don’t want to talk about their feelings, storybooks about fictional characters going through divorce can sometimes be an effective side door into conversation. Ask your child questions as to why she thinks the characters in the story felt a certain way. It may help you dig a little deeper and find out if your child is feeling similarly.