Going through a divorce isn’t fun for anyone involved. It’s hard on both of the spouses, and it is certainly different for the children, who may have trouble adjusting and coping with the changes. The psychological effects of divorce on children can be intense and long-lasting. However, there are strategies parents can use that will help the children to adjust to the changes. Below are some of the things you will need to think about and that you’ll want to do to help your kids during the divorce.
Should Parents Stay Together for the Kids?
One of the questions that a lot of parents ask when they are contemplating divorce is whether they should stay together for the sake of the kids. Although divorce can indeed cause some problematic psychological effects on children, parents staying together when they shouldn’t be together will often be just as harmful or worse. Although you want what’s best for the kids, that certainly doesn’t mean that you should stay together in a loveless or violent marriage.
Divorce is going to be hard on the kids, just as it will be hard on you. However, rather than staying together “for the kids” and living a miserable 10 or 15 years before finally getting a divorce, you can get it done with. This will be better for you, your spouse, and your kids, in the end. If you were in a marriage where you and your partner did not love one another, the kids can pick up on this. It could give them the wrong impression of what a healthy relationship should be like.
It Will Take an Emotional Toll
There is no doubt that divorce is an emotional time for everyone involved. However, kids have less of an understanding of everything that’s happening. It is coming at them from out of the blue in most cases. One day, everything in the world they know to be true has suddenly changed. This can be confusing and frightening regardless of the age of the children.
Younger kids often have problems understanding why their parents are no longer living together and why they have to go between two houses. Some may even be worried that if their parents can stop loving one another, they might stop loving them, too.
As kids get older, they might believe that the divorce is their fault. They might worry that because they did something they shouldn’t have it causes their parents to get divorced.
Teens will often be angry about the divorce and the fallout. Namely, will be mad about all of the changes it causes in their lives. They may end up blaming one of the parents for the divorce, or they might be upset with both parents.
Not All Kids and Situations Are the Same
It’s also important to remember that circumstances are different from one person to the next and from one family to the next. Sometimes, the kids may actually be relieved that the divorce happened. In situations where there is abuse, for example, this could be the case. Even if there isn’t abuse, kids in homes where the parents are fighting all the time are not going to be happy. The divorce could be the thing that helps to break the tension and bring about some much-needed change.
The First Year Is the Hardest
As you might expect, it’s the first year or so that tends to be the most difficult on children. This makes sense because all of the changes are so fresh and the idea of not all being together in one home is so new. It’s during that first year that kids will generally have the most trouble. They have to get used to new routines, a new place to live, potentially a new school, and more. It’s a whole lot of change in a short period. Naturally, this is a tough time and kids will feel upset, anxious, and sad.
However, as time passes, things do start to become easier. They become more accustomed to the new routines. They make new friends if they are in a new school, and they start to move forward with their life. It might still be hard sometimes, such as the holidays or birthdays, but it gets better.
What Can Parents Do?
One of the first things parents can and should do is make sure they are there for the kids. Even though you are going through a lot during and after the divorce, you have to put the kids first. Make sure you are there to listen to them, answer their questions, and help them understand what’s happening and why. Let them know it is not their fault and that even though things might seem scary right now, they will get better.
Parents should try to be honest with the kids about what is happening, but not why it’s happening. Kids don’t need to know the sordid details of why the divorce is happening, whether it’s because of money issues or infidelity. Those are things that they shouldn’t have to think about.
Consider Therapy for the Kids
Even those parents who have kids that seem resilient in the face of divorce should make sure they at least consider taking the kids to a therapist. Divorce can take a toll on the mental health of the children, and it can last longer than just that year of adjustment. There could be certain things the kids carry with them throughout childhood and into adulthood that can affect their mental health.
One of the best things you can do for the kids is to enroll them in therapy during the divorce and for at least six months to a year after the divorce. This will give them a place to work out their feelings and issues, and they get to talk about their frustrations with someone who won’t judge them and whose feelings they won’t hurt. Find a therapist who has experience with children of divorce the same age as your kids.
Although divorce is scary and it takes time to adjust to, your kids will be okay.