Helping Children through a Separation or Divorce
Posted on June 5, 2019 by CHS
A separation or divorce can be a difficult experience for the whole family. If you and your partner are considering a separation or divorce, you can make a plan for how you will go through the process. As you make a plan or list of steps you need to take, be sure to consider strategies for helping your children through a separation or divorce.
The first thing to consider is the safety of your children and yourself. If you feel your home or partner may not be safe, then find a safe place and seek the support and advice of a professional counselor or legal advisor. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233, or visit https://www.domesticshelters.org to search for a shelter near you.
If you are in a safe situation, there are several ways you can help your child through the separation or divorce. Start by making sure you are staying healthy by getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating healthy food. It will be easier for you to help your children if you have taken care of your own needs first. Use the following tips to make a support plan with your partner.
After you and your partner have made the decision to separate or divorce, sit down and talk to your children about it. If possible, try tohave this conversation together. Explain to the children that changes are coming, but you want them to know that they are loved, safe, and will be cared for no matter what. Talk to your children about what they can expect and reassure them that the separation is not because of anything they did. You can use some of the following children’s books to help guide your conversations and discuss feelings.
- Always Mom, Forever Dad by Joanna Rowland and Penny Weber
- Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
- Divorce is the Worst by Anastasia Higgin-Botham
- Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly and Lisa Brown
- Living with Mom and Living with Dad by Melanie Walsh
- My Family’s Changing by Pat Thomas
- The Enormous Suitcase by Robert Munsch
- Two Homes by Claire Masurel
Keep things as consistent as possible. Continue with your regular routine for school, bedtime, homework, behavior management, etc. If you need to make a change in the routine, discuss it with your children in advance so they are emotionally prepared. If you are not able to stay in the same home, explain that you need to move to a new home and involve the children by asking what kind of home characteristics are important to them. For more resources on how to prepare children for a move, see the resources below.
Avoid involving your children in the separation or divorce proceedings and do not rely on your child for your emotional support. Children will often offer support when they see a parent feeling sad, but they can become fearful, angry, sad, or frustrated if they start feeling like each parent is pulling them in a different direction. Seek comfort and advice from friends or counselors instead. It is also important to avoid adult conversations or fighting in front of children. Schedule private meeting times with your partner to discuss separation or divorce arrangements. Holding these discussions in front of children creates a feeling of instability and fear. Make your children’s mental and emotional well-being a priority by limiting their involvement.
Children will benefit from keeping both parents in their lives, even if it may be difficult, it is important to work together to set up a schedule for regular visits. Ask children about how they are feeling and help them verbalize their thoughts and emotions. As you talk, help children think optimistically by finding solutions. For example, if your child says she feels sad, ask her if she can think of something that makes her feel happy. You could also remind her of another time she felt sad and point out how she got through it and ended up feeling better. Teaching children how to first express, and then cope with their emotions will make them more resilient through this difficult time.
How children react to separation or divorce depends on their age, experience, and family situation. Be prepared to answer questions and be patient. This is a life-changing event and the effects will not immediately disappear. Check in with your children regularly to talk about how they are feeling and what they need. If you see your child is experiencing extreme emotions, or regressing by sucking their thumb or wetting the bed at night, then consult with a medical professional about how to help your child. Going to a doctor or counselor shows your child that it is okay to ask for help when you need it.
Explore the resources below for further information about helping your child through a separation or divorce.
References and Resources