Caring for Your Child’s Emotional Health After Divorce

We’ve all heard the phrase “stay together for the kids.” The thinking behind this adage says that kids will be the happiest, healthiest, and best adjusted in a home where both parents are present. While this may be true in theory, when the parents are fighting and there is no peace to be found, a two-parent home may not be the best place for your kids. Rest assured that going through a divorce doesn’t have to mean that your children will not grow up happy and healthy. Here are seven ways to protect your child’s emotional health after divorce.

1. Reassure them that everything will be OK.

Change is hard for even the most jaded teens, and many kids will simply seek reassurance that everything is going to work out all right in the end. They may worry that their relationships with their parents will suffer, they may fear moving or changing schools, and they may simply dislike the disruption in the pattern to which they’ve grown accustomed. Proclaim loudly and often that you will always be there for your kids, no matter what, and that they can count on you for support.

2. Be a source of safety.

With all the changes that occur during the divorce time period, children (and adults) will seek safety and familiarity. Be that source of comfort for your kids. Ensure they know that they are loved and that you will always have their best interests at heart. Having a safe, welcoming place to return to will empower your kids to reach out and explore their new worlds boldly, which is critical to their successful adjustment to life post-divorce.

3. Show love in as many ways as you can.

No matter how many times you deny it, your kids will have a hard time shaking the thought that your divorce has something to do with them. Do everything you can to dispel this notion, and reassure them that you love them unconditionally and that your divorce is about you and your partner only. Be consistent and liberal in your expressions of love and your kids will come out on the other side of divorce stronger and more resilient.

4. Listen to their concerns.

In many cases, children experiencing stress or change may speak or behave in ways that are inconsistent with their usual personalities. Be patient and listen to what they are trying to tell you, be it through their words or deeds. Acting out, far from being a sign of spitefulness or willful disobedience, may be a plea for attention and love during a time when those things might seem in short supply. Be quick to listen and slow to speak, doing your best to reserve judgment or punishment until you really understand why the behavior is taking place.

5. Ask as many questions as they will let you ask.

The key to understanding how your kids are feeling is to draw it out of them with questions they want to answer. This is the opposite of an interrogation-like Q&A session! Ask open-ended questions to encourage your kids to open up and share how they’re really feeling. Helping them feel heard and understood will help you head off potential problems before they start.

6. Learn what makes them tick.

If you haven’t already, take some time to really get to know your kids. Observe their interactions with each other, their peers, their teachers, and strangers they meet. You’ll quickly notice patterns in how they resolve problems, respond to criticism, and express emotions. Of course you’ll want to encourage healthy behaviors, but before you dive in make sure you understand how and why they communicate. Your interactions will be much more fruitful for it.

7. Help them build connections.

Help them find groups and organizations that make them feel at home and help them grow. This doesn’t mean forcing them to participate in activities they don’t enjoy just for the sake of social interaction. Find out what really makes them tick and then support that with all your heart. Healthy healing starts with having a positive outlet for stress and anxiety. Find what works for each family member.

Divorce is hard, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster. Your children can and will grow into strong, emotionally healthy adults with your guidance. Start with these seven tips, then continue to look for opportunities to encourage their growth. Your kids will come through this divorce with flying colors.

PS — Thinking about getting a divorce but not sure how to start? We’ve got you covered. Click here.

PPS — Here and here are some great co-parenting tips to help you and your partner raise great kids together.

PPPS — Have something to add? Chime in using the comments below!

Derek Distenfield is CEO and Co-founder of NextGenJustice which offers legal and tax solutions without lawyers in four main areas of law: family, business, estate, and tax preparation. More articles can be found at http://nextgenjustice.com/blog/.

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Originally published at nextgenjustice.com on April 19, 2016.

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