Divorce can be a stressful time, not only for the separating spouses, but also for the children who depend on them. This transition may include moving homes, splitting time between parents and even meeting a parent's new mate. These events can promote feelings of anger, confusion and guilt.
"Divorce can have a huge impact on a child," said Dr. Sara Rivero-Conil, psychologist and Clinical Manager of the Department of Psychology at Miami Children's Hospital. While every family is different, with varying methods and timeframes for coping, there are several things parents can do to make the adjustment easier on the children.
Communication is the key in a situation like divorce. Children should be encouraged to share their feelings—both negative and positive. "Make talking an ongoing process, be prepared for them to have questions and, though it may be difficult, keep your children's feelings and opinions separate from your own," she said. It's imperative for the child to know that you are still accounting for their feelings. Remind them that they are not at fault for the divorce.
Take the High Road
"How severely a child is impacted by a divorce is usually connected to the amount of conflict they are exposed to during the process," said Dr. Rivero-Conil. "It's important to keep adult feuding away from the children. Avoid using children as messengers or having them 'spy' to find out what is happening with the other parent." How you support your child and relate to the other parent will be detrimental on your child's adjustment to the changes.
"Too often, parents who are feuding unintentionally make the kids feel like they have to pick a side, and this can be traumatic for a child at any age. Regardless of the situation, try to remain as factual and neutral as possible around them," she said.
Take Care of Yourself Too
While it's important to encourage children to have a positive outlook during a divorce, parents must also remember that taking care of themselves is important too.
"When you're in pain, your children are in pain too," said Dr. Rivero-Conil. "Seeking the support of family members, friends or a therapist can help you stay strong. Divorce is certainly not easy but patience and communication can make the process better for the whole family."