Children and Divorce
Helping Kids Cope with Separation and Divorce
for Auckland Therapy Blog, 11 March 2019.
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in the Middle
How parents can support their children to adapt when they
separate. Considerations for Separating Parents.
There are two main predictors of children’s positive adjustment
to their parents separation. The first is how well the parents
adjust and develop a positive life for themselves. The second is how
well the parents establish a good relationship with each other regarding their children following their separation.
- Children’s security and wellbeing are affected when there is
conflict between parents. Their distress is made worse when they get
caught in the middle of their parents hurt and anger. Avoid fighting
in front of the children and seek help to work through your
separation issues so the children are not exposed to your conflicts.
- It is the duty of each parent to facilitate children’s
positive relationship with the other parent. Children understand
they are a product of their two parents, whom they love. Any slight
against either parent is hurtful to the children. Make
a point of not making negative comments or doing hurtful things to
the other parent.
- It is important that your children’s feelings about both their
parents are free from contamination. Even if one parent has behaved
badly in the relationship, that does not mean that this is the
children’s experience. The children may have experienced that
particular parent to be a loving and good parent.
- Sometimes when one parent feels wounded and deeply hurt by the
other, they may want to punish their ex partner. Sometimes children
are used as a way of hurting/punishing the other partner. This can
cause enormous distress and confusion for children. They feel caught
in a loyalty conflict and will feel confused. Children caught in such a bind may
end up unable to trust either parent. The loss of contact with
is one of the worst outcomes of parental separation. (Unless there
is a very good reason for severing contact e.g. safety concerns.)
Ways to help Children Adjust
- Reassure your children often that each parent loves them and
when you can have these conversations with both parents together.
Make a point of celebrating children’s milestones and achievements
- Tell your children over and over that the separation is not
their fault and they have done nothing wrong. Give age appropriate
information about why you are splitting up. A good general
explanation is that “Mum and Dad have grown apart and are no longer
happy together.” Say that you are sorry that Mum and Dad can’t live
together any more and show them that you understand how hard this
must be for them.
- Explain that adult love is very different from the love parents
have for their children. Tell them the love parents have for their
children lasts forever and does not go away - No Matter What. You
could call this Everlasting Love.
- Frequently ask your children how they are feeling and encourage
them to talk. Don’t minimise or take away their feelings of loss. Reassure them that they will all adjust and start to feel better in
- Be positive about the future and talk about the benefits of
having two homes and time with each parent separately. Discuss
plans, schedules and ways to make things work with your children.
- Respect your children's relationship with the other parent. Do
not ask lots of questions or pry into your children’s time with the
other parent. Let them decide what to share. Do not pass information
between parents through your children.
- Try to keep routines the same at each house. Things like
bedtime, before and after school schedules, discipline, chores etc.
The more structure, routines and certainty that children have, the
safer and more secure they will feel.
- Reduce the stress between the two houses. Call each house “our
house” rather than Mum’s or Dad’s house. This helps them belong to
each parents house and make it their home. Belonging and feeling
wanted is so important for children. Let children take their clothes
and belongings between houses. Help them pack for transitions
between houses so they don’t forget to take what they need. Moving
between houses can be very hard for children, especially at the
beginning. Sometimes making a list on the wall can help.
- Make a really big effort to make transitions/dropoffs a stress-free experience for children. Prepare yourself for these, and put
aside your anger and hurt so your children see both parents behaving
in a respectful and friendly way with each other. Being able to do
this makes an enormous difference to children’s sense of security
and wellbeing. You will feel good if you can do this too and it will
become easier in time.
Remember that how you handle your separation will become a map for
your children throughout the rest of their lives. You are teaching and
modelling to them how to get through difficulties and solve problems and
be a respectful, sensitive and understanding person.