When parents get divorced, their children often face the most upheaval. Ending a marriage is never easy on the spouses, but at least they understand and have some say in the process. Children face more stress because they have little to no input on the matter and may not even know what is happening.
That’s why it is so important for parents to learn how to protect their kids during a divorce. With the right approach, you can make your split less painful for your children, help them process the changes they experience, and make it easier for them to move on.
The Effects of Divorce on Children
Being a child or teenager is more stressful than most adults remember. Most kids have little agency or control over their surroundings and daily experiences. They are at the mercy of the adults around them, particularly their parents. When these adults can give a child the attention and care they need, the child feels secure and can grow and explore. However, when adults are distracted, the child can feel insecure in their place in the family.
In addition, children are psychologically built to thrive on structure. Even in situations where all adults give them attention, care, and guidance, big changes can cause significant stress.
This is why divorces are hard on children. Even the most dedicated parents often have less time to spend with their kids during and after a divorce. Furthermore, the change from a two-parent household to one or more single-parent households is drastic.
This stress and change can cause a variety of issues in kids. Common issues include:
- New difficulty in school, such as fights with peers or dropping grades
- Behavioral regression, such as tantrums, bed-wetting, or emotional outbursts
- Mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression
However, with appropriate care, parents can minimize many of these issues and help their children adjust to their new lives with minimal disruption.
Protecting Your Kids From Divorce Trauma
Every child is different. Issues that may not cause noticeable anxiety for one kid may cause another serious stress. While there’s no single rule that will work for every child, there are some guidelines you can follow to protect your children from the worst strains of your split.
1. Communicate What to Expect
Children are more perceptive and more anxious than most adults realize. Trying to hide the fact of your divorce, or failing to keep them informed about the things that affect them, can leave them feeling uncertain and scared. Sit down with your kids regularly to give them information like:
- Which parent will be leaving the home
- Where the children will live
- How custody is being split
- How they will keep in contact with each parent
However, this does not mean you should tell your kids every detail of your divorce. They don’t need to know the details of why you’re getting divorced; they just need to know what to expect.
2. Minimize Fights
Parental conflict is another factor that can make it much harder for your children to adjust to a divorce. If you and your spouse frequently fight in front of them, they may feel like they have to choose sides or mediate your arguments. That is emotionally damaging and can cause your child to act out or seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Instead, avoid fighting in front of your kids. If you disagree with your spouse while your children are present, try to model healthy conflict-resolution skills. Avoid shouting at each other, and excuse yourself from the room if you feel overwhelmed. Focus on “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Try phrasing things like “I feel disrespected when the kitchen is this dirty” instead of “You never clean the kitchen even though you know I hate mess.”
This prevents your children from feeling caught in the middle of your arguments and teaches them healthy ways to handle strong emotions at the same time.
3. Prioritize Routines and Familiarity
Kids thrive on routine. When a major change like a divorce happens in their lives, structures and familiar routines are more important than ever. Try to keep as many aspects of their lives consistent during the divorce, and warn them before things need to change.
For example, maintaining the evening routines in both parents’ households can be invaluable for helping your kids feel secure. When your children know that things like bedtime are the same no matter where they are, they can process other changes with less fear.
4. Remember Your Children’s Feelings
For many children, their parents’ divorce is one of the worst things they have ever experienced. It’s natural for your kids to be upset, frightened, angry, or sad about it. As a parent, you are responsible for helping your children understand and process these emotions.
The best way to do this is to acknowledge their emotions when they are expressed. If your kids start having tantrums or other emotional outbursts after learning about your split, they are likely expressing their feelings about the divorce in the only way they know. You can sit down with them, ask them about their feelings, then help them find healthier ways to express them, like sports, art, or writing.
Help Your Kids Through Your Divorce With Empathetic Legal Counsel
Considering your children’s needs during your divorce is one of the biggest gifts you can give them. At CC LawGroup, we understand that divorces impact your entire family. We strive to help parents streamline their divorces while protecting their kids from unnecessary uncertainty and emotional pain. Learn more about how we can assist you by scheduling your consultation with our Bay Area law firm today.