Divorce is an experience that is very common in households across the U.S. One of the most unfortunate consequences of divorce is the splitting up of families, which directly impacts children. This is a difficult experience for kids, but exactly how difficult it is typically depends on the child, their age, and the circumstances of the divorce. Typically, the initial responses are feelings of frustration, sadness, and anger. For some kids, there may also be feelings of guilt. Fortunately, when the situation is handled properly, many children are able to adjust to their new circumstances over time. The best way for parents to handle the actual divorce is to keep arguments and talk about the divorce away from their children. They should not only strive to keep any disruptions to their children’s routine to a minimum, but both parents should remain actively involved in the child’s life as well. It is also important that parents only seek support from adult friends and family instead of their children.
Breaking the News to Children
The decision to divorce is a major one. Although it is upsetting for everyone, it’s important that parents break the news to their kids as soon as possible. Both parents should be present for this conversation, which should be calm and without accusations or blame. Talk of separation and divorce should be tailored to the child’s age, and parents should ensure that kids understand that it isn’t their fault, as it isn’t uncommon for kids to feel as if they are to blame.
How to Handle Kids’ Reactions
Kids will experience a variety of reactions upon learning about their parents’ divorce. They may also have a lot of questions. These questions and reactions may happen right after they’re told or over a period of time. Some kids may behave as if they’re OK in order to please their parents and may deny negative feelings such as anger or sadness. Stress is a common reaction that often manifests as changes to their sleep, appetite, and behavior. This can impact their behavior at school, at home, with family, and with friends.
To handle these reactions, parents should not only recognize them but be reassuring about their love for their kids. Parents should also be prepared for questions their kids may have about what will happen to them, such as where they’ll live, go to school, or spend holidays. When addressing these questions, parents should keep explanations simple when talking to younger children and answer them as truthfully as they can.
Mourning the loss of a marriage and family life is something that both children and their parents experience. Kids may hold onto hope that a reunion between their parents is possible. Eventually, however, they will need help coping with the realization that there will be a divorce. To help children better cope, parents should:
- Tell their kids that their feelings are important, and encourage them to be honest about their feelings.
- Be good listeners.
- Validate their children’s feelings.
- Be supportive and take steps to make them feel better. This can be as simple as letting them talk to the parent who’s moved out or spending quality time together.
- Avoid blame and name-calling while being mindful of how they speak about their spouse in the presence of their child.
- Exercise, eat well, and get support from a counselor. By taking care of themselves both physically and mentally, parents set a good example for their children and stay healthy.
Consistency is crucial to ensure a smooth transition for children during divorce. Divorcing parents should ensure that separation agreements having to do with kids and custody make every effort to conform to the child or children’s familiar routines and activities. It’s also beneficial for children to spend quality one-on-one time with both parents. During that time together, parents should look out for any changes in their children, as some older kids may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with changes caused by divorce.
Changes in Living Situations
Determining where children will live after a divorce can be a source of conflict for many. Seeking an attorney who specializes in family law isn’t always a necessity, however. Because this is such an important decision, parents should make it thoughtfully and consider which option their children will best thrive in. Common scenarios for custody and family living situations include one parent having sole custody, joint custody where both parents share physical and legal custody, or joint custody in which one parent has greater authority in certain areas, such as medical or education. Living arrangements can find the parents living apart or both parents continuing to live under the same roof for the benefit of their kids. These living arrangements may need to change over time: As the children grow older, they may find it difficult to move between households if it interrupts their social or school life or as they turn into more rebellious teens. In these situations, parents should discuss concerns and wishes with their children to create a new, agreeable arrangement for everyone.
- Divorce and Separation (video)
- How to Support Children After Their Parents Separate or Divorce
- Children and Divorce: Helping Kids Cope With Separation and Divorce (PDF)
- How to Tell Kids About Divorce: An Age-by-Age Guide
- The Best Possible Thing You Can Do to Help Your Child Through Divorce
- 11 Rules for Helping Your Child Deal With Divorce
- Kids and Coping With Divorce
- Children and Divorce: Helping Kids After a Breakup
- Activities for Helping Children Deal With Divorce
- Helping Children Cope With Divorce
- How to Get a Divorce Without Messing Up Your Kids
- Answering Tough Questions
- Kids Can Be Happy After Divorce: Here’s How Parents Make it Happen
- Children and Divorce
- Learning About How to Help a Child Cope With Divorce
This page was last updated by Brian Joslyn