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Don’t Divorce The Children

Does divorce traumatize children? The answer depends on two factors: the child's resiliency and the environment created by divorce. People are unique in their personal makeup. Some experience events like they're made of Teflon - it just slides off. Others experience events as severe trauma - they are enduringly influenced. While parents can do no more for the former, once they have left their DNA, they have a great deal of influence over the latter.

How can parents help to minimize the risk of trauma to children during and after divorce?

Parent to child
  • Provide space for children to express their fears, sadness and sense of loss.
  • Make clear that the divorce was not their fault.
  • Reassure them that they will be safe.
  • Create a stable routine and appropriate discipline.
  • Give them ample advance notice of changes whenever possible.
  • Avoid making your child a source for your emotional support.

Between parents
  • Support your child's relationship with their other parent and avoid negative comments about them.
  • Keep the specifics of the divorce between yourselves - because it is.
  • Avoid using children to communicate between parents - or report on them.
  • Avoid conflict and argument in the presence of the children.
  • When possible, speak to your children together to reassure them they are loved by you both.
  • Find ways to communicate with each other that eliminate (or reduce) hostility.

Parent to self
  • Maintain and/or build a support system from extended family and friends.
  • Consider individual or group organized or professional support.
  • Strive for balance in your life despite the stresses (eat well, exercise, and nourish your spirit).
  • Set goals and prioritize issues you need to address.
  • Inform yourself of the challenges faced in divorce and co-parenting.
  • Be forgiving and accepting of yourself - there's probably enough guilt in the system already.

Some of the indicators that children are experiencing the divorce in a traumatic way are:
  • Increased moodiness.
  • Negative self-comments (i.e., "No one likes me." "I hate myself." "I'm dumb").
  • Withdrawal or losing interest in things they used to like.
  • Sleep or eating problems.
  • Drug or alcohol use.
  • Uncharacteristic anger outbursts or fighting.
  • Loss of concentration.

When parents divorce, they don't divorce the children.


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