Do everything possible to prevent divorce, but if it occurs, here are guidelines to help reduce the damage to your children.
HOW TO HELP CHILDREN WHEN YOU DIVORCE
1) Allow the child to express their feelings. Respond, “I know you’re unhappy over the divorce. I feel real sad, too. It will take a while before we all feel better again. It’s ok to cry and let me hold you. You might see me cry sometimes, too” Or, “I know you’re angry and wish Mom & Dad had stayed together. At times I feel that way, also. I’m glad you can tell me how you’ re feeling. I will answer any questions you have.”
2) The adjustment of your child depends to a large extent on your emotional health. They need extra attention and nurturance from you at a time when you are feeling emotionally depleted. There is a danger to rely on the child for your emotional needs when these should be met by other adults. Seek out a good friend or counselor to talk with. Many churches have support groups for those going through divorce.
3) If possible, try to limit changes in the child’s life (such as going to a new school or moving to a new apartment).
4) Let your child have a relationship with your ex-spouse. Don’t ask the child to side with you against their other parent. Tell them, “Mom and Dad don’t love each other anymore, but it’s o.k. for you to still love Dad. It’s o.k. for you to love both of us.”
5) Children may fear abandonment (“If Mom and Dad stopped loving each other maybe they’ll stop loving me sometime.”) Each parent should reassure the child, “I will always be your Mom/Dad no matter what. I will always love you.”
6) Children often hope for the re-unification of their parents. Allow them to express this. You might respond with, “I know you hope Mom & Dad will get back together again someday, honey, but I just don’t think that will ever happen.” This will help them accept the divorce.
7) Children often feel they are to blame somehow for the divorce. Assure the child he/she is not the cause. They may have heard you and your spouse arguing about them. Explain, “Mom & Dad disagree about many things. We did not divorce because of disagreements over you.
8) Your child may feel God is punishing them with the divorce. They reason, “This is the most painful thing ever. I must be bad or somehow deserve this for God to let it happen to me.” Assure your child that bad things happen even to the blameless. God hurts with us. He cares about our pain.
9) In regular prayer times with your child remember to pray for the needs of the other parent. This not only releases God’s power for your ex’s growth, but can also help you and your child recover from resentments against that person.
10) Don’t argue with your ex-spouse in front of your child (including phone conversations). Keep this private.
11) Regarding parenting interaction with your ex: be businesslike as if this was someone you were dealing with at work. Make appointments to phone or meet about parenting decisions. Make all visitation agreements explicit (such as time, place, whether children will be fed or not, what clothes they need, etc.) Do not ask children to make these arrangements.
12) After your child has visited your ex, don’t question the child on areas you and your ex have fought over. This puts children in a no-win situation. If they tell you, you’ll be mad at your ex. If they don’t tell you, they fear you will be disappointed or angry with them. Ask about the visit without trying to gather damaging information about your ex.
13) If your child has conflicts with the other parent which do not involve you, let them discuss it without you as a go between. Pick-up time for visitation involves you. What they do together does not involve you unless the child is endangered. Example of what to stay out of: During visitation Dad leaves the child with a sitter while he golfs all day. The child should share with Dad that they feel hurt when this happens and would like to spend some time with him. Encourage the child to make their own requests to the other parent.
14) Your child may intentionally play you and your ex against each other to get things they want. Example: The child says to Dad, “Mom says you’re cheap.” Poor response – Dad buys the child more toys to prove Mom wrong. Better response – Dad says, ‘What’s important to me is how you feel,” and then deals with it appropriately.
15) Give hugs and say “I love you” to your children often.
16) It is not uncommon for things to be rocky for a year after a divorce. During this adjustment time your child may have problems such as: withdrawn, non-communicative, few friends, poor school work, anger, frequent headaches or stomach aches, and tearful. A child therapist can help.
Growing Through Divorce by Jim Smoke
Christian book written for those divorcing.
Our Family Got A Divorce by Carolyn E. Phillips
Christian book written for children ages 7-11.
Healing the Hurt: Help for Teenagers Whose Parents are Divorced by Mildred Tickfer
Christian book written for young teenagers (10-14 years).
The Parent’s Book About Divorce by Richard Gardner, M.D.
Not a Christian book, but very practical.
The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce by Richard Gardner, M.D.
Not a Christian book, but written for children to read or could be read to them by parents.
Guidelines compiled by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist Psy11011
Reinicke Counseling Associates (619)298-8722
Mission Valley ▪ Rancho Bernardo ▪ Carlsbad