Parent Strategies For Young Children During Divorce

Parent Strategies For Young Children During Divorce - Heidi Dinning

Parent Strategies For Young Children During Divorce

If you are going through a divorce, you likely expected it to be a tough and challenging time for you. That does, however, extend to your children as well. No matter the age that your children are at, watching their parents go through a divorce can be upsetting, scary, and even confusing. While you try to work everything out with your spouse and your legal team, you will also need to prepare to help your children through this difficult time and transition.

You may see behavioural issues as a reaction to this change, and you should be prepared to deal with this or any other issues that arise for your children as a result of your divorce proceedings. Read on for a list of some strategies you can implement for your young children during a divorce– it will make things easier for them, but for you and your spouse as well. 

Respect Their Emotions

This is one of the first things you should be doing, and it is very important. Your kids are going to have a lot of feelings about your divorce, and it is healthy for them to be able to express these emotions. Forcing them to bottle their emotions up can actually be harmful to their mental state and mental growth, creating lasting issues later on. Encourage your children to talk to you about how they are feeling, even if it is not that easy for you to hear– sometimes, it won’t be!

However, you do not want to send the message that it is your child’s job to make you feel better, because it is not.

Be clear that you are interested in what your child has to say on the matter, and that you really care about how they are feeling. This will give them the opportunity, to be honest with you, rather than lying or keeping it to themselves in order to avoid hurting your feelings. Then, once your children are honest with you, try not to let it hurt your feelings and do not take it personally. 

When respecting your child’s emotions, you should be sure that you are listening and trying to understand what they are saying, but do not try to intervene. Of course, you will likely want to get involved and try to spare their emotions– as any parent would– but divorce is something that is going to be painful no matter what.

You are also not going to be doing your child any favours if you try to protect them from their own emotions. Listen carefully and try to empathize with your children and validate their emotions. Discuss the feelings that they are experiencing, rather than treating emotions as problems to “get over” or solve. An example of this is, when your child says they are sad, tell them that you understand why they might feel that way and invite them to tell you more– instead of just trying to cheer them up. 

parenting with young kids in a divorce

Common Emotions In Children During Divorce 

Take a look at some of the common emotions or behavioural issues you may see in your child during your divorce so that you can prepare for them properly. 

Behavioural Issues

You may see that your children are acting out more during your divorce, and this is fairly normal. It is usually either a symptom of anxiety or because they are trying to see what their new boundaries are. This could happen at home or at school, too. A way to deter this, or avoid it, is to create a structured environment and set clear expectations. 

Further Reading – Coparenting from a Kids Perspective

Guilt

Guilt is also a very common emotion for children during divorce. You have to remember that young children are still very egocentric, so they may worry that they did something to cause the divorce, though of course, as adults, we know that is not the case. To avoid this, be sure that you explain clearly to your children that you are not getting divorced because of them and that it is not your fault. Even if you think your children know that, tell them this explicitly. 

Anxiety

When routines and home life is changing– as is common during a divorce– this can cause stress and anxiety for your children. If you do notice any signs of anxiety in your children, combat this by clearly outlining what they can expect now that things are changing. Make it a priority to establish a consistent routine to put your children at ease and make sure that they feel safe. The earlier in your divorce process that you are able to do this, the better so that your children know what to expect.

Withdrawal

You may see your children starting to withdraw and become more distant during a divorce. This can be tricky, because you do want to give them their space and let them process their emotions, but you should also be sure to be available for them, too. Try to get them back on track if they seem to be losing interest during this time in things they used to love so that you can uphold a sense of normalcy. Suggesting an outing together may also be a good way to get them involved and excited, and can help you bond as well. 

Model Calm

The last thing you may feel during your divorce proceedings is calm. However, it is important for your kids that you try to put on a brave face and show them that you are cool, calm, and collected. Showing your kids a “we’ve got this” attitude and confidence will help to reassure them during the divorce. It will give them that same sort of confidence as well. You may not want to do so, but it can help to keep your children feeling safe and comfortable.

It is even more effective if both you and your spouse can model this attitude in front of your children, but even if it is only you doing so, it will make a difference.

Do your best to insulate your children from conflict and keep things around the home as normal as possible. This extends to normalcy with home life, school, and extracurricular activities.

This can also help to distract your children from the stress of a divorce. If you do need to make changes– since this is sometimes out of your control– do your best to create healthy new routines and then stick to these. 

Be Positive About Your Ex

Depending upon what is going on in your divorce, you and your spouse may not be parting on amicable terms. You may want to complain about them or say some nasty things– and maybe they are doing it about you, so you feel like you should just stoop to their level.

It is important for your mental health to do your best to take the high road during a divorce. It is even more important to do so when it comes to your children, as you do not want to affect the relationship they have with their mother or father. 

It is not healthy for your children to deal with any unnecessary conflict between their parents, so even if it is difficult, do not speak poorly about your spouse in front of them. Many divorcing couples try to put their children against the other spouse, and this is something you should always avoid doing.

It is unhealthy and unfair to your children– remember that just because you and your spouse are getting divorced does not mean that your children’s relationship with them should suffer. Instead, you and your spouse should try to present a united front to your children when child rearing is concerned, which will help you to co-parent later on. If that is not possible, simply refrain from bad-mouthing your spouse in front of the kids– follow the age-old rule of if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. 

Read Also – Co-parenting

Get Support

Divorce can feel very scary, alienating, and lonely for all who are involved. This, of course, includes you and your spouse– the pair who are actually getting divorced–but can extend to your children as well. They may be going through something that their friends have not, and do not know how to deal with this sudden change.

It’s important to get the proper support for your children, and sometimes this may look like an outside support system such as a therapist– rather than you just trying to provide that support all on your own.

After all, you will likely need support during this process, too! Friends and family can be a great support system if you are having trouble with your divorce– and even afterwards– but a mental health professional may also be necessary. If you do the research and establish a strong support system for your children and for yourself, it will be easier for you to get through the divorce proceedings and keep your emotions and mental health in check. 

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