HELPING YOUR KIDS DEAL
WITH YOUR DIVORCE
by Louise Hajjar Diamond
of the most difficult issues facing children is the divorce of their
parents or caretakers. Divorce requires significant adjustment for
all family members including children, parents and grandparents. For
several reasons, adolescents may experience a more difficult transitional
period than their younger or older siblings may. Adolescence is a
time of personal change, seeking acceptance and developing individual
identity. A major life change at this point in a childĦs development
may be particularly traumatic.
my eleven years as a guidance counselor, IĦve counseled many elementary
and middle school students on regarding the divorce of their parents.
Even though IĦve never met a child who was unaffected by his or her
parentsĦ divorce, some children are able not only to adjust but to
thrive after the initial transition period during and immediately
following the divorce.
my experience as a counselor, the children who have the most healthy
experiences are those whose lives are as or more stable after the divorce. The keys to helping kids to
adjust and cope with divorce seem to be developing a new normalcy
or reality and building stability. Here are some tips for helping
your kids with your divorce and maintaining a new family structure.
Naturally, like you, your children will
experience a wide range of emotions
when adjusting to the divorce and their new life. If your childrenĦs
perception of family life prior
to the breakup was positive, they may need to grieve the loss. It
may help to grieve together. Reassure your kids they can always count
on you and your former spouse (if thatĦs realistic) to be there for
them. Keep communication open. Make significant adults aware of the
divorce (teachers, coaches, counselors, and sitters).
Obviously, with each additional change there
will be more reactions and perhaps
Expect your adolescents to respond to seeing his or her parents dating
other people, remarrying, and new siblings.
Some adolescents experience a drop in grades
or develop anger management issues. Children may react by withdrawing from the family and seeking
acceptance and comfort from peers. Anticipate such changes in your
adolescentĦs behavior. Kids often take their emotional and behavioral
lead from their parents. Be aware of your own moods and behaviors.
Try not to be offended if your child says something hurtful or blames
you for the divorce. Kids (and adults) tend to release their most
negative emotions where they feel the most secure.
Encourage your children
to ask you questions
about the divorce. Understand that that this conversation may not
be a one-time discussion but may come up over and over again. Listen
to your children with understanding and without judgment. Adolescents
will probably have an idea about why the divorce occurred. You can
be frank with your kids while trying to avoid criticizing your ex-spouse.
Reassure your children that divorce is the end of a marriage, not
the family. Directly tell your kids that they did not cause the divorce
and they canĦt control or change the situation.
Preserve your normal routines
and house rules. When possible, avoid multiple changes at once, such as moving,
changing schools, and losing contact with friends, grandparents, and
other support systems. Unless you know that your former spouse will
inflict harm on your children, encourage your children to maintain
their relationship with their other parent. If possible, try to encourage
your ex-spouse to maintain similar rules and routines in his or her
home with your children. Set up a place for your kidsĦ belongings
in each home even if itĦs just a drawer or shelf.
Even though adolescents may
be aware of the causes of the divorce, avoid asking your children
to take sides.
Resist turning to your
adolescent as a confidant as a substitute for a spouse.
DonĦt allow your negative
feelings about the divorce cloud your judgement about issues related to
Avoid pumping your kids
after a visit with the former spouse.
DonĦt burden your children
to keep from their other parent.
Try not to send messages
to your ex-spouse through your children. Young teens tend to resent
these practices and they may work against you by breaking down lines
Refrain from making harsh
or condemning comments about your former spouse in front of your child.
For example, if an adolescent boy constantly hears how awful is father
is, he may internalize these emotions and think that he too is no
good. After all, his father is part of him. Even if a child doesnĦt
actually verbalize these feelings, they remain inside him and will
eventually influence his behavior and choices. Kids will eventually
make their own judgements and evaluations about a parentĦs behavior.
It may take time but in most cases it will happen. Chances are your
kids will make peace with themselves and both parents.
Most adolescents can benefit
from speaking with a qualified listener during times of stress and
change. Fortunately, there is a great deal of counseling and support
available for both kids and parents regarding divorce. Public schools
often offer individual and group counseling for students during the
school day. You can start by meeting with your childĦs guidance counselor.
The counselor can speak with your child and make recommendations specific
to the studentĦs needs. The school can also provide you with information
about counseling programs that are offered at no cost within your
school district. Most of the public middle schools offer peer counseling
and mediation. The school districts also provide family counseling
parent training and support groups.
learn more about counseling and parenting programs offered in your
school district visit your districtĦs website: . You can also find
counseling and divorce support groups in many community agencies and
places of worship.
Hajjar Diamond is a guidance counselor, freelance writer and mother
of two. To reprint this article, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)