When one home becomes two: the do’s for helping your child adjust to divorce
Divorce doesn’t just end a marriage; it changes the lives of any children involved, making it natural for parents to be concerned about the emotional toll on their child.
While you can’t control the impact a divorce has on your child, here are some suggestions on how you can make this difficult transition easier:
Be sure of your decision. It’s stressful for a child if the parents announce they’re getting a divorce, just to change their minds later. That indecisiveness can lead to confusion and emotional upheaval; not to mention makes it more difficult for a child to accept if it does happen.
Be prepared to explain what comes next. If at all possible, try to finalize plans, such as living arrangements and custody, before talking to your child. Having answers can help relieve a child’s anxiety and communicate these decisions are for adults to make.
Break the news as a parental unit. Discuss the divorce with your child together. Explain the facts in simple terms and stress that it has nothing to do with the child or their behaviors. Allocate enough time to answer questions.
Expect your child to react. Normal reactions are regression, anger outbursts, crying, separation anxiety, defiance or withdrawing from others. Reactions vary and may occur right away or surface in several months.
Allow your child to feel. Listen to your child, encourage expressing feelings and understand a child will often need extra attention during a divorce. In addition to conversations with peers that have divorced parents, have information available, such as books, to help your child realize that he/she is not alone.
Determine how you and your ex are going to communicate about the child. Be it in person, email, phone calls or text messages, make sure you have a consistent way to share information regarding medical concerns, school work and activities.
Inform the child’s school or care provider. Share news of the divorce with teachers and care providers so they can understand behavior and help support your child. Parents can also inquire if the school has a support group for children of divorce.
Understand that the transitions can be extremely difficult. Transitioning between homes tends to be the most stressful part of having divorced parents. The day of a parenting time exchange is typically when most undesired behaviors will occur. Do your best to create a personal space for your child in both homes and develop a system to manage belongings.
Remember your child has the right to love BOTH parents.
Photo credit: Brintam
Laura Hutchison, PsyD, LP, RPT/S ,a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider, has been a practicing therapist since 1999. She obtained her Doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) in 2005 from The Center of Humanistic Studies (now called the Michigan School for Professional Psychology). She currently works part-time in her private practice in Farmington Hills, Mich., writes her own blog, PlayDrMom, and is a full-time mom of two young children.