5 Tips for Helping Your Kids Through Divorce
5 Ways to Help Your Kids Navigate Your Divorce
The divorce process is a challenging time for everyone involved, but it can be especially difficult for children. Your kids are likely going through a lot of changes during your divorce, and they may feel responsible for what happened. Here are five tips for prioritizing your kids during this time.
1. Keep Your Children Out of Adult Conversations
When divorce gets rocky, kids often feel caught in the middle of their parents’ conflict and may worry about the future. For these reasons, it is important to keep kids out of adult conversations during the divorce process.
If you must discuss sensitive topics with another adult, do so in private. Avoid shouting or arguing in front of your kids, and don’t use them as messengers to communicate with your ex-spouse.
On a similar note, you should be mindful of how your attitude about the other parent could impact your child. This means refraining from speaking badly about the other parent in your child’s presence, regardless of how difficult it may be. Speaking badly about the other parent in front of the child can have a lasting negative impact. Not only does it damage the child’s relationship with the other parent, but it can also create feelings of guilt and confusion.
In some cases, it may even lead to behavioral problems. Because young children haven’t developed solid independent identities yet, they may feel that each of their parents is an extension of themselves, which can result in personal wounding if they witness one parent assigning negative character traits to the other.
By keeping them out of the interpersonal challenges of the adults in the situation, you can help your child to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents and simply be a kid.
2. Explain the Divorce Process in an Age-appropriate Way
Taking precautions to shield your kids from difficult adult conversations can help to minimize the stress that they experience during this time. However, that does not mean you need to keep them out of the process entirely. In fact, taking the time to explain it to them can help ease any confusion they may feel and encourage a sense of agency in their lives. The key is to break the news to your child in an age-appropriate way.
For very young children, it is often best to keep the explanation simple. You might say something like, “Mommy and Daddy are not going to be married anymore, but we will both always love you.” Once the news has settled in, help your child understand what their life will look like during and after the divorce. Telling them what to expect well in advance and casually inserting gentle reminders each day before it happens can minimize the emotional trauma of the divorce.
Older children will likely have more questions and will need more information. It is important to be honest with them, but ensure that you do not share too much adult information. Reassure them that they are not responsible for the divorce and that both parents will continue to be involved in their lives.
3. Give Your Children a Say in Their Living Arrangements
In addition to the stress of the divorce itself, parents often have to deal with the heartbreak of not being able to see their children as much as they would like. For this reason, many parents are inclined to choose their child’s living arrangements based on what is most convenient or comfortable for them.
However, as divorce lawyers, we often advise our clients to give their kids a say in their living arrangements, assuming they are mature enough to express their opinions and preferences. While it is important for parents to have a say in their child’s living arrangements, it is also important to involve the children in the decision.
There are several reasons for this. Having a say in where they live can help them feel:
- A sense of control over their lives during a time when everything else feels out of their control
- Involved in the post-divorce parenting process
- Valued as a human being
Of course, it is ultimately up to the parents to decide what is best for their children. There will be times when the kids’ wishes cannot be accommodated, but involving them in the decision-making process can go a long way toward making the divorce process less stressful for everyone involved.
4. Create a Parenting Plan That Prioritizes Your Kids’ Best Interests
When couples divorce, one of the most important decisions that they will make is how to structure their parenting plan. Ideally, this document should be drafted with careful consideration of the best interests of the children.
A parenting plan is a written document that spells out the custody arrangement and visitation schedule. Parenting plans can be very detailed, specifying which parent will have the children on which days and times, or they can be more general, providing only a broad outline of the custody arrangement.
The parenting plan should also address other important issues, such as:
- Communication between the parents
- Holiday visitation arrangements
- How the parents will make decisions about the kids
- How parenting expenses will be shared
A well-crafted parenting plan can help to minimize conflict between the parents and provide stability for the children. When developing a parenting plan, the children’s physical and emotional health should always be the top priority. This means that the plan should provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs as well as any special considerations that may be necessary.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child and can be realistically followed by both parents. If neither parent can agree on what is best for the children, a judge may need to make the decision. You could also pursue divorce mediation, which encourages healthy communication to allow both parents to come to a mutual agreement.
5. Help Your Children Build a Support System of Friends, Family, and Professionals
Divorce can be one of the most life-altering events in a child’s life. They may need to change schools, abandon familiar routines, or reconsider their identity within the family unit. These changes can feel overwhelming and isolating for a tiny human. As a result, kids may feel like they have no one to turn to, so it is important for parents to help their kids build a support system of friends, family, and professionals who can help them navigate the emotional challenges of the divorce process.
Friends can provide a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and some sense of normalcy. Family members can offer a different perspective and help with logistics. Additionally, mental health professionals like child and family therapists can offer impartial guidance and support. It may also be beneficial to let your child’s coaches or teachers know about the divorce so that they can extend some additional grace and empathy while your child adjusts to the changes.
When going through a divorce, it is important to put the needs of the child first. All-in-all, by surrounding your kids with people who care, keeping them in the loop in child-friendly ways, and creating a child-centered parenting plan with the help of a divorce lawyer, you can help make the divorce process a little bit easier on them. If you need legal assistance at any stage of your divorce, call 201-343-0078 to speak with a New Jersey divorce lawyer at the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco today.