Remember that all children need extra support when their parents are divorcing.  Divorce is a major life change for a child that takes place over a period of time and requires ongoing support.  Here are three ways you can support your child:

  • Be available.  We cannot predict how or when a child will respond to divorce. As parents, it’s important that you make yourself available on their timeline, instead of trying to make them fit yours. For example, you make have a talk with your child about divorce and were relieved to find that they didn’t have any questions for you. However, you should be prepared for questions that may come a day, week or month later. Be patient, loving and flexible.
  • Understand and address your child’s concerns.  Every child will have concerns about divorce.  Young children usually fear that they have caused the divorce, while older teens often fear they could have prevented it.  Listen to your child’s concerns and dig deep to understand them.  If your child worries about changing schools, try to understand the underlying fears. Perhaps he is afraid he will get lost in the new building, perhaps he worries about missing his old friends, perhaps he worries that the new teacher is going to be mean.  Once you know the real fear, you can begin to address it.  “We will take a tour of the school and meet your new teacher.” If it is an option, “You can still have play dates with Sarah even if you aren’t at the same school.”
  • Validate your child’s experience. Too often, parents try to paint a rosy picture of an event because they want their child to feel better right away.  This is completely understandable because no one wants to see their child suffer, however it is invalidates the child’s experience; this leaves children feeling alone with their problems, rather than supported. For example, “Moving will be great because you will have two rooms – one at my house and one at daddy’s.” If your child is worried about not seeing you both every day or about not going to the same school, a rosy response will miss an opportunity to truly support your child. Validating a child’s experience teaches them about understanding and accepting their feelings. “You are really sad about having to move.  You’re going to miss living next door to Sam.” Don’t try to change your child’s feelings, rather hear and accept them. This is very comforting to children, even if it is unsettling for you to hear about her distress.

These are things you can do over and over throughout the divorce to help support your child.  Talking with your child about divorce isn’t a one-time conversation; it is a series of conversations that occur over time.  Being available to your child and hanging in there during difficult feelings and behaviors will help them adjust and move forward.