Helping your child through your divorce may be one of the most difficult
tasks you will ever face as a parent. The following is a brief list of
practical tips that can help as you walk through this difficult time with
Be honest. Don't lead your child to believe "dad's away on business" or
"everything is going to be wonderful". Children are very perceptive. They
know if a parent is trying to hide something, even if the purpose is to spare
their feelings. Children need simple straight-forward answers they can
understand, without blame or making anyone wrong or bad.
Let your child know it is not their fault. All children assume they may
be responsible for their parents' breakup. Children need to be gently
reassured repeatedly over the first couple of years that the divorce is an
adult decision having nothing to with them or their behavior.
Listen quietly. Children have many questions, feelings, assumptions and
concerns about divorce. Many parents find it difficult to just sit quietly
and listen to their children talk without trying to interrupt with a "fix-it"
statement. Children need to feel heard with quiet patience and undivided
Let your child know however they respond to the divorce is O.K. Many
children hide their feelings of sadness, grief, anger or confusion because
they are afraid expressing these feelings will upset their parents. Children
need to know all their feelings are acceptable.
Let your child know it is normal for them to want their parents to get
back together again. Children can feel ashamed about this very normal wish.
You can explain to your child that once divorced, it is very unlikely that
people ever get back together, but their wish for reconciliation is very
Reassure your child of personal safety. Many children are concerned if
their parents divorce there will not be enough food or shelter or clothing
for them. Children living with single mothers may also need reassurance that
she has a plan to protect them in case of fire, "burglars" or "ghosts".
Ask your child about friends of theirs whose parents are divorced. This
is a good way to learn of your child's fears and assumptions about divorced
parents, and gives you the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions and
remind them that other children have gone through what they are now going
Don't put your child in the middle or try to make them take sides. Don't
say anything about your ex in ear-shot of your child. Don't have your child
carry messages to your ex. Children need to be able to love both parents.
If one parent is disapproving of affection a child expresses toward the
other parent, the child will begin to withdraw, become dishonest or
Spend time with caring friends. Having a supportive network can protect
your child from becoming your confidant and feeling responsible for your
emotional well-being. It can also give you a higher frustration tolerance
for the normal everyday things kids do.
Read together and talk about a book on divorce for children. This will
help you explain important facts to your child and help your child formulate
questions they might otherwise not have words for. A wonderful interactive
book to read with your child is "My Parents Still Love Me Even Though They're
Getting Divorced", written by Dr. Lois V. Nightingale, a Clinical
Psychologist, for children and their families.
Joint or sole custody may be awarded based on the best interests of the child and other factors that include 1) the preference of the child, 2) the desire and ability of each parent to allow an open and loving relationship between the child and the other parent, 3) the child's health, safety and welfare, the nature and contact with both parents and 4) the history of alcohol and drug use. Marital misconduct may be considered.
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