Helping Children Through a Divorce or Separation

Old Port of Montreal, Montreal, Canada by Sai De Silva
Old Port of Montreal, Montreal, Canada
by Sai De Silva

Children are often faced with a number of challenges when you divorce or separate from their other parent. Some children are worried or angered. Others are saddened or downright frustrated that their family unit is breaking up. However, there is light at the end of this tunnel for children of divorce or separation. Resilient children learn to tolerate and adapt to changing circumstances. Here are seven ways to help your children through it all and ensure that your relationships with them stay intact.

Telling Your Kids About the Divorce

Some children might see it coming. But for others, learning of your separation or divorce can be a truly humiliating and challenging experience for them. Naturally, your kids will want to know if everything is going to be okay. While it may upset you to have to explain this to them, it is best for you to stay composed. By staying calm, you would avoid feeling angry or ashamed. More importantly, you will avoid making your children feel angry or ashamed. Younger kids will not understand the gravity of a separation or divorce. But, all children should be made to understand that divorce or separation is not their fault. Explain to your children that neither parent will be abandoning them. Help your kids understand that the breakup is between you and the other parent. Let them know that everything will be okay.

Be prepared to explain to your children what will be changing in their lives so that they are prepared. Try to be forthcoming with answers to their questions. This is especially true for older children who already have some level of understanding of the circumstances. It is not necessary to explain all details. For example, let them know about you and the other parent choosing to live apart to avoid disagreements. This will make more sense to your kids than explaining every justification for the breakup.

Listening to Your Children

It is important to hear your children out after telling them about your impending separation from their other parent. You should reassure them that it is okay for them to have unsettling feelings about everything. It is also okay if they do not want to talk about it right away.

Your children might ask about your future relationship with the other parent and with whom they will live. They might also ask whether they will switch schools, whether they will see their friends anymore, or whether they can still engage in certain activities. To the extent that you don’t have all of the answers, you can at least tell them what you think that they need to hear so that they feel confident that everything will work out. Even with uncertainty, you can still express positivity about making arrangements that benefit your children.

Supporting Your Children Going Forward

Going forward, all family members typically go through some coping process and will reflect on the past. Children commonly hope that their parents get back together, and while that is okay for them to feel, it is important for them to understand that you and the other parent have made a final call on the separation or divorce. There’s no going back.

You might be wondering how to help them get through this darker time in their lives. A solid first step is to validate their concerns, meaning that you understand what they are saying and are taking them seriously. This includes giving them the time to vent. It is also good to follow up on your children’s concerns. Some responses that you receive from them might be the beginning of a more important conversation about how they are feeling. If you acknowledge their feelings, you might get them to open up more. Maybe they hold the solution to their own problem and can figure this out by talking with you.

Commit to a Schedule or Routine

When you are going through the typical changes associated with separation or divorce, it is best for you to avoid changing other things in your life that likely negatively affect your children. You and the other parent are typically making arrangements regarding custody and parenting time. In this context, you should ensure that your children see each parent  – whether through the allotted time or a different schedule if accommodations are reasonable. Your children’s happiness could be contingent on seeing you and the other parent – not just one of you. Keep that in mind.

Following Your Children’s Behavioral Changes

Each child copes with divorce or separation differently, yet you still might be able to detect that they are coping since you know how your children normally are. Perhaps they express signs of anxiety or other discomfort. They might change what they eat or how often they eat. Your children might not attend school as much. They might not spend as much time with friends. To the extent that they are older, they even might experiment with alcohol or drugs. For this reason, you should watch over your children’s lifestyle for problematic behaviors. If they are having problems coping, then they might be well served by speaking with a professional such as a medical doctor, psychologist, therapist, counselor or social worker.

Keeping the Peace with Your Ex

As you approach divorce or separation, It is important to refrain from getting into heated fights with your children’s other parent especially in front of them. Although it is understandable to get into arguments that your children overhear, they might not take well at all to you and the other parent shouting, screaming, or engaging in any action that might make your children feel unsafe or scared. Moreover, if you are extra hostile or combative with your ex in the presence of your children, then it is possible that your children may resent you or otherwise pick up bad habits from you. Civility can go a long way.

Transitioning After Divorce

It is important to consider the big life changes that you and your children will experience. Specifically, you or the children’s other parent might have sole or joint physical custody – and the difference in who has custody can be substantial for your children. Some children do well in splitting up living arrangements between each parent within each parent’s respective home, while other children are more inclined to choose only one parent’s place to call home. Try to help them as much as possible in becoming acclimated to a changing environment.

In Oklahoma, you and your ex could come to an agreement regarding the physical and legal custody of your children. To the extent that you and your ex can agree on things, the court does not necessarily have to get involved to make all determinations on custody and parenting time. Regardless of how those issues are decided, remember that children who fare better tend to receive consistent support from both parents. As your children grow, their needs and values may and probably will change, so it is important to be flexible and always focus on their best interests.

Naidu Law is comprised of distinguished lawyers who have meaningfully helped clients in all aspects of family law matters including divorce, child custody, child support and more. Consult with the experienced and knowledgeable family law attorneys at Naidu Law by calling (405) 792-2400 or by contacting us online.