St. Louis Divorce Lawyers

How to Help Your Children Cope with Divorce

Helping your children cope with their new living environment requires compassion and routine.

Divorce is never easy; emotions can run high and parents need to plan for a new life.  This can include finding a new home, decorating, and furnishing a new house. However, many parents find the hardest part of custody is not in the logistics of a new beginning, but providing a sense of stability for their children.  St. Louis lawyers can provide a myriad of resources at your disposal. Your family law attorney will work closely with counselors and therapists to help children and parents during a divorce.

It is to understand that children can fall into three over-arching stages in relation to divorce; young children (up to age four), older children (from age five to twelve), and teenagers.  The latter two will share many qualities, but all will view the changes around them from the lens of their respective stages of development. It is necessary to approach each with the right technique, to properly help them during this seemingly chaotic and trying period in their lives.

What to Expect

As stated above, each age group will have a different perception of divorce.  Young children are set in their dependency on both parents and are also accustomed their routine.  The loss of routine may result in regression. Previously potty-trained children may wet themselves or their bed, become moody, and lose their sleep schedule.  

Older children can also regress; seeking attention and complaining of stomach aches and other problems that will reinforce a perceived necessity for dependence.  Unfortunately, this partially stems from a sense of fault for the divorce, as well as the loss of routine. It is also common to become emotional when visiting the non-custodial parent.  Their sense of guilt may result in children trying to take on extra responsibilities; they essentially may try to become an adult themselves.

Teens, like older children, may also develop feelings of guilt and blame themselves for the separation.  They too may attempt to replace the non-custodial parent and seek to be more “adult-like.” Teens also tend to be vocal about whom they wish to live with, having a stronger sense of connection with one parent over the other.  To further their anxiety, they may worry about losing touch with friends, due to changing weekend schedules and living arrangements. Finally, a teenage child may also find one of their parents at fault for the divorce.

How to Help Your Children

Helping your children cope with their new living environment requires compassion and routine.  For younger children that means keeping meals and bedtime as regular as possible. It also means asking questions like, “Do you miss mom/dad?”  Finally, outline their new environment; explain that even though you’re not living together, that both parents still love them.

For older children it is often a good idea to sit down as a family about two weeks ahead of the separation.  Use this time to explain not just the changes, but what will stay the same. This can be the school they attend, opportunities to spend time with friends, and even visitation with parents.  Knowing what to expect will help them cope with what is to come. It is also important to give your children a chance to voice any questions they may have. Perhaps of equal importance, stress that the upcoming separation is not the child’s fault.  

Teenagers tend to be a bit more difficult at times, as any parent with teenagers is aware.  Like their younger counterparts, sit down a week or two ahead of time and discuss the upcoming separation.  Teenagers, however, are often more independent and have a better understanding of divorce. As such, they may not require the same amount explanation as preteens.  It is important to actively ask them questions to open conversations. When they ask a question, give a clear and simple response. It is also important to keep private from them the gritty details of what lead to the divorce, such as extramarital relations.  Be open about how you, the parent, are feeling. Finally, consider explaining what you are doing to self-heal.

While a marriage may come to an end, parents’ love and concern for their children should stay strong through this process.  Every good parent feels a sense of worry about the new life their children are entering. This is normal and healthy. What is important is to work as a team to ensure both parents know what their children need, and how to guide them towards stability once again.  Through counseling and an understanding of how children react to the stresses of divorce, parents can help children cope with what is to come.

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L.C.S.W., Robert Taibbi. 2013. Psychology Today. June 28. Accessed October 12, 2018.