Divorce is difficult for everyone involved including the parents who were formerly in love and the kids whose world can change overnight. While kids are typically aware of their parents conflicts, they are not usually privy to the intricate and painful emotional process that has led their parents to separation. As a result, it typically comes as more of a shock to kids. One of the most important things that parents can provide to children is a sense of security. Change threatens this security as it brings increased uncertainty and stress. Change is also more difficult for children because of their continued dependence on adults and their lack of decision making power in the face of separation.
When parents finally decide that they can no longer stay married, the best thing parents can do is minimize the changes their kids will be experiencing. For instance, children would prefer that their new homes be in the same neighbourhood as their old home. This allows them to maintain their friendships and remain at the same school. When possible, routines should also be maintained. If visits to grandparents or other extended family were routine, maintaining this will be important. Extracurricular activities or play dates should also remain in place if possbile.
Parents’ psychological well-being can be compromised due to stress. This stress can lead to increased verbal and physical aggression. Aggression tends to be shown towards the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, this includes kids. Getting professional help will minimize the effects of this change on the kids. If the increased stress resulting from divorce motivates one to get professional help, this may mean that, over time, much improved parenting can result.
When change cannot be helped, it is important for parents to assist kids with transitions by giving them adequate notice, and making the change gradual. Gradual transitions to the new home may mean taking the kids for a visit prior to actually moving in or taking them along when deciding on new home furnishings.
Finally, the stress that comes with change may be related to anticipatory anxiety. That is, kids typically do not get to an opportunity to talk about their feelings or have their questions answered. This leaves them with unlimited and catastrophic possibilities. Allowing them the opportunity to talk, ask questions, and even give their opinions can reduce needless fears around impending changes.
While change can be stressful, if managed properly, it can also open kids up to new and, hopefully, less conflictual family experiences. Limiting the impact of change by maintaining kids environments/routines, taking care of your psychological needs, preparing kids for transitions, and allowing them an opportunity to express their concerns, can all help them get through the turmoil of divorce and land back on stable ground.
What have your experiences been with regard to kids and divorce? Leave us a comment.
Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.