10 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce (page 3)

10 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce

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Updated on May 21, 2010

6. Keep Things as Amicable as Possible

According to Brady, what makes children suffer the most is hostility between parents. While it may be easier said than done initially, make an effort to keep things civil and peaceful, if not friendly, and be respectful of your former spouse.  If tensions are high, communicate by email or hand-written notes rather than in person or on the telephone.

  • Divorce is not about playing tug of war for your child’s affection or using your child to spy on the other parent.  Brady says it's appropriate to take an interest in your child’s time away with the other parent and offer support. Asking an open-ended question such as, “How was your weekend?” is fine, but pumping your child for information and asking things like, “Is Daddy dating someone?” or “Did Mommy buy any new clothes?” are not.
  • Along those same lines, Brady encourages parents to speak to their own extended families about the divorce and ask relatives to refrain from badmouthing the other parent for the child’s sake.
  • It is important not to use your child as a messenger. Communicate directly with the other parent, and avoid attacking words. Brady recommends using non-confrontational statements such as, “I’m hearing that…” or “Johnny reports that...and I wanted to talk to you about it.”

No matter what the nature of your relationship with your former spouse is, let your child have access to the other parent on a regular basis. If one parent lives far away, then schedule regular telephone “dates” with your child or let her send hand made cards that describe what she did at school and home that week. Take advantage of technology if possible; set up live video chats on home computers or have your child send emails. Parents can make a video of themselves reading their children’s favorite stories and talking to them. Kids can play the “Daddy video” whenever they want and feel close to dad even though he may be miles away.

7. Be Reliable

If you say you're going to pick up your child at a certain time, be punctual. Chronic tardiness or flakiness can cause stress and worry, and make your child feel rejected and unimportant. Brad adds that it can take away off-duty time from the other parent, which can create more stress. You can help your child keep tabs on their schedule until they get used to the new routine by:

  • Creating a calendar that shows your child where she will be each day. You might use stickers or a color-coded system for younger children. Let your child select the stickers or colors that represent mom time and dad time.
  • Posting a master list that shows the year at a glance, including where your child will be spending holidays and vacations.

8. Advise Your Child’s School

Teachers can be incredibly valuable allies, so if you're comfortable doing so, let them know about the divorce.

  • Your child’s teachers can tell you how they think your child is doing socially and emotionally as well as academically.  If your child exhibits uncharacteristic behaviors such as acting out, withdrawal or inability to concentrate, teachers may be able to make helpful recommendations.
  • When your child is asked to create cards or gifts for family members on special occasions, teachers may allow your child to make two sets, one for mom’s house and one for dad’s house. 
  • If your child’s school publishes weekly newsletters or sends family envelopes home, ask that copies be given to both households. Update school files including emergency contact information and the school directory. 

9. Be Discreet About Your Dating Life

If you're not getting remarried or in a relationship, it's best to keep your dating life and parenting life separate. Brady advises, “Unless or until you think you have found a keeper, try to keep it separate.” The primary reason is because children form attachments. If the relationship doesn’t pan out and that person disappears, then the child experiences another loss.

In addition, introducing your child to every new person you begin to date can be confusing and upsetting. Your child may fear being displaced, and feel jealous or threatened. To your child, Brady explains, the new person in your life may signify the end of all hope that you and your spouse will ever get back together which can lead to feelings of animosity.

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