What's the best way to help your family get through a divorce?
Every situation — and every family — is different. But these suggestions
can make the process less painful for kids, teens, and families.
Helping Kids Manage Their Feelings
Encourage kids to share their feelings — positive or negative — about
It's important for divorcing — and already divorced — parents to sit
down with their kids and encourage them to say what they're thinking and feeling.
But keep this separate from your own feelings. Assure your kids that their feelings
are important, valid, and normal. Let them know that you can handle a conversation
about even difficult or painful feelings.
During these conversations, avoid problem solving and trying to change the way
a child feels. Instead focus on listening and thanking kids for their honesty. Most
often, kids feel a loss of family and may blame you or the other parent — or
both — for what's going on in their lives. So, you'll need to be ready to answer
questions your kids might raise or to address their concerns.
Make talking about the divorce and how it's affecting your kids an ongoing process.
As they get older and become more mature, kids might have questions or concerns that
they hadn't thought of earlier. Even if it seems like you've gone over the same topics
before, keep the dialogue open. If possible, sit down with the other parent and plan
how you're going to talk about what's going on.
If you feel like you may get too upset, ask someone else (a relative, maybe) to
talk to your kids. It's OK and healthy for kids to see their parents feel sad or upset,
but getting very emotional can make them feel responsible for their parents' feelings.
If your children do see you struggle with a difficult emotion, model healthy coping
as much as possible. Try to:
Label your emotion for them ("I'm feeling sad right now.">).
State that you know it's OK to feel this way sometimes (It's OK and normal for
me to feel sad").
Talk about how you'll cope with your tough feelings ("Something that always helps
me feel better when I'm sad is baking cookies with you or playing outside. Let's go
It's natural for kids to have many emotions about a divorce. They might feel guilty
and imagine that they "caused" the problem. This is particularly true if kids overheard
their parents arguing about them. Kids and teens may feel angry or frightened, or
worried about their future. If they voice these emotions, reassure them that this
was not the case while reminding them that it's a normal feeling.
Although kids may struggle with a divorce for quite a while, the real impact is
usually felt over about a 2- to 3-year period. During this time, some can voice their
feelings. But, depending on their age and development, other kids just won't have
the words. They may instead act out or be depressed. For school-age kids, this might
mean their grades drop or they lose interest in activities. For younger children,
these feelings are often expressed during play too. Be aware of a "sleeper effect"
with young children: they might take big changes in stride at first, but disruptive
behaviors or challenging emotions can come up years later. Communicating openly with
kids and modeling healthy coping, even if they seem OK with the big changes, can reduce
trouble down the road.
It may be tempting to tell a child not to feel a certain way, but kids (and adults,
for that matter) have a right to their feelings. And if you try to force a "happy
face," your kids may be less likely to share their true feelings with you.
Group programs for kids of divorce run by schools or faith-based organizations
are an excellent resource for kids and families who need some help to get through
these early stages.
Taking the High Road
Keep adult conflict and arguments away from the kids.
This is one of the hardest things to do. But it's important never to say bad things
about your ex in front of your kids, or within earshot. Kids pick up on these things.
Research shows that the single biggest factor in long-term adjustment for kids of
divorce is the level of parental conflict they see. It puts kids in a tough spot if
they have to take sides or listen to negative things said about one of their parents.
It's just as important to acknowledge real events. If, for example, one spouse
moves out or abandons the family, acknowledge what has happened. It isn't your responsibility
to explain your ex's behavior. But if your kids ask you questions, it's important
to answer as neutrally and as truthfully as possible.
Try not to use kids as messengers or go-betweens, especially when you're feuding.
Even though it is tempting, don't use your kids as messengers. There are plenty
of other ways to communicate with your ex-partner. Also, resist questioning your child
about what's happening in the other household. Kids resent it when they feel that
they're being asked to "spy" on the other parent. Wherever possible, communicate directly
with the other parent about things like scheduling, visitation, health issues, or
Expect bumps as kids adjust to a new mate or the mate's kids.
New relationships, blended families, and remarriages are among the hardest parts
of the divorce process. A new, blended family can add more stress for a while, and
lead to another period of adjustment. Keep lines of communication open, allow one-on-one
time for parents and kids, and watch for signs of stress to help prevent problems.
Figure out how to reduce stress in your life to help your family.
Support from friends, relatives, church and religious groups, and organizations
such as Parents Without Partners can help parents and their kids adjust to separation
and divorce. Kids can meet others who've developed successful relationships with separated
parents and can confide in each other. Getting support can help parents find solutions
to all kinds of practical and emotional challenges.
Whenever possible, kids should be encouraged to have as positive an outlook on
both parents as they can. Even under the best of circumstances, separation and divorce
can be painful and disappointing for kids.
Parents also need to remember to take care of themselves. Reduce stress by finding
supportive friends and asking for help when you need it. Try to keep some old family
traditions while building new memories to share. Showing your kids how to take good
care of mind and body during hard times can help them become more resilient in their
Remember that honesty, sensitivity, self-control, and time itself will help the