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Helping Children Navigate Divorce

Divorce is never an easy situation for the parties involved – especially for the children. Understanding how to interact with your children and helping them understand the situation is essential. Communication is key and during a time of such stress and emotional highs and lows it can be difficult to clearly express the dynamics of the circumstances.

Marital conflict and change in the configuration of the family can elicit grief, anger, disappointment, and fear in children – emotions that are often expressed through negative behaviors. A once calm and patient parent may become short-tempered, impatient, and unavailable. A family with established routines and traditions enters a no man’s land where new routines have yet to be established.

While no one solution works in all situations, there are some invaluable tools that parents can employ to help their children navigate divorce and settle into a new, healthy, happier existence.

Be respectful. Anger, grief, betrayal and hurt are natural parts of the emotional landscape during divorce. Be aware of how you speak about and to your partner. Show your children respect and refrain from yelling, blaming or criticizing.

Keep in developmentally appropriate. The timing of when to share information about a divorce changes depending on the age of the child.

Be available for communication. “The Talk” about a divorce is ongoing. Set aside regular times to communicate with your children and hear and respond to their concerns.

Listen, Listen, Listen. Since it is often difficult for children to communicate their words, remember that behavior and moods also communicate feelings when it is too scary or difficult to verbally describe them.

Share the task of communication. Sometimes the complexity and intensity of a child’s responses requires the assistance of counselors or therapists. They can help provide tools for children coping with divorce and help regulate emotions.

Don’t be afraid. Many families feel compelled to avoid difficult communication. This leaves children emotionally alone in this situation and does not protect them from their intense feelings about the separation.

While divorce threatens to tear the bonds between family members, if it is dealt with thoughtfully and with respect, bonds between parents and children can be made even stronger.

Here is more detailed information on navigating your children through divorce.

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