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10 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce (page 2)

10 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce

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Updated on May 21, 2010

3. Validate feelings

Kids need to know that their feelings are normal, and that in time, they will feel better. Find safe and acceptable outlets for your child to get her aggressions out and help her channel those feelings into activities she enjoys. If you have a spirited child, physical and outdoor activities are ideal so she can run, stomp, kick, and sometimes even yell and shout. Some potential outlets are:

  • Sports such as martial arts, soccer, or kickboxing. “Give your child a punching bag,” Brady offers, have her “shoot baskets or take a walk. Let your child pound the couch cushions but make sure it's not destructive.” 
  • Quiet zone – Give your child a comforting place where she can feel calm, away from the noise and distractions of the rest of the house. Sitting in a quiet space and squeezing a stress ball can help dissipate tantrums and relax younger children. 
  • Art projects – Let your child get good and messy with finger paints. Show her how to create Jackson Pollock-inspired drip and splash style pictures. Give your older child carpenter’s tools to build something or simply hammer the heck out of a piece of plywood. Build a birdhouse or a toy chest together and let your child paint it. Give your child clay to knead, mold and sculpt.
  • Utilize resources. Seeking short-term counseling can help your child get through the crisis of the feelings. Especially when family dynamics are volatile or hostile, it can help to have a trained professional diffuse the situation and create healthy strategies. 

When you can visibly see that your child is experiencing a powerful emotion, try asking her about it. You might say, “It seems like you are feeling upset right now. Is there anything I can do to help you?” 

Older kids especially can be very angry and act out or blame parents. In that case, Brady coaches parents not to engage or withdraw from their children or to have hurt feelings. She suggests using words like, “I understand you are angry, and that is okay, but you may not be disrespectful.”

4. Embrace the Future Together

You don’t have to pretend to be a super-parent and say that you have everything all figured out. You can work on things together and incorporate fun and laughter along the way. Create a new family tradition or special project such as:

  • Instituting a weekly movie or game night
  • Creating a secret handshake
  • Cooking Sunday supper together
  • Planting a new garden and maintaining it together
  • Giving each other back and foot massages
  • Exploring the city and finding a new favorite park or playground
  • Going to the library or museum on a regular basis
  • Picking a charity to support and donate to
  • Volunteering – visit the elderly or clean litter from the beach

Be sure that your child plays a significant role in deciding what to do. Any areas in her life where you can let her have control may help her feel more at ease with all the changes that are happening.

5. Co-Parent Consistently

Kids need stability and consistency, so it’s important that there are common expectations that will help your child to transition successfully between households. Brady believes in the importance of agreeing upon major child-rearing issues but leaving the minor, day-to-day decisions to the parent “on-duty.” For example, a joint decision would be determining at what age your child should be allowed to start dating. But, taking television privileges away from your child for misbehaving would be done at the discretion of the parent on-duty. It would be unfair, Brady continues, to expect that the consequences be carried out at the other parent’s house. Practices that can make going back and forth between homes easier include:

  • Having duplicate sets of key items at each home so children aren’t burdened with remembering to bring everything to and from. This would include your child’s favorite blankets, pajamas, books, toys, sundries, school supplies, and medications. 
  • Sending last minute reminders and updates to the other parent in a backpack that travels back and forth.
  • Providing your child with a room with a bed if possible, rather than a couch or a sleeping bag on the floor. Even if your child is with you less than half of the time, she shouldn't feel like a visitor. 
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