Nobody enters into a marriage planning for divorce. But statistics show that 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce. And, while this time is difficult for spouses, it can be even more emotionally challenging for children. Many divorcing families have children who are under age 18. Depending on how old the children are and the circumstances surrounding the divorce, children may act out in a variety of ways while coping with the several life changes that divorce brings.
Parents give children a sense of security. During a divorce, it’s quite reasonable for children to feel confused and scared about the future. When they see mom or dad hurting, they might misinterpret these changes, blame themselves, or attempt to bring mom and dad back together again. To help your children better cope with your divorce, here are effective tips that will make the transition easier:
Signs to Look for When Children are Struggling
Some children hide their emotions when they’re coping with significant changes in their lives. So, how do you know if your child is struggling to deal with your divorce? Some children pick up behaviors that they had already grown out of, like wanting their pacifier, throwing temper tantrums, or wetting the bed at night. Some children will become more attached and increasingly upset or anxious when you have to leave them. Children in their teens can experience a variety of emotions, like guilt, anger, or even relief that their parents are divorcing. Others might become withdrawn and isolate themselves, become aggressive when upset, or feel symptoms of anxiety or depression.
All children handle their parents divorcing differently. Symptoms and behaviors that your child might express include:
- Problems in school
- Behavioral problems
- Intense mood swings
- Socializing less with friends
- Difficulty with everyday chores
- Lowered self-esteem
- Difficulty communicating
- Escalated irrational fears
Many parents have trouble co-parenting in the beginning stages of a divorce. Emotions are running high, and these attempts can do more harm than good. But time heals all things, and eventually, co-parenting gets more comfortable. After emotions have settled and you and your former spouse establish a routine, making big decisions, and scheduling gets easier.
Strategies to Help Children Cope Through a Divorce
Being present for your children helps significantly during this trying time in their lives. Other strategies that many parents have found to be helpful when helping their children cope through divorce include:
If at all possible, avoid telling your children alone that you and your spouse are divorcing. Instead, both parents should approach their children when breaking the news, and don’t wait too long before having this conversation. Children need time to grasp and prepare for the upcoming changes in their lives. Giving them time to process is much easier for them than waiting too long, and risking that they might figure it out themselves.
Acknowledge Sad Feelings
While it may be tempting to paint a more optimistic picture to your children by suggesting the divorce helps everyone, this is not wise. Acknowledge the sad feelings that you all go through during this time of change. In time, those feelings go away. But it’s important to acknowledge feelings of sadness and frustration to cope better in the long-run.
Don’t Use Your Children
Avoid using your child for emotional support during this difficult time. Allow their love to make you strong, but turn to your friends and family for help when needed. Also, do not use them as messengers or speak negatively about your spouse in front of them. It’s critical for children’s mental and emotional health that they don’t feel caught in the middle.
When your children are bouncing back and forth between both parents’ homes, try to keep household rules and expectations the same to avoid confusion. As much as possible, try to maintain chores around the house, homework times, bedtimes, and consequences the same between both households.
Encourage your children to keep close relationships with your spouse. Children should never feel like they have to pick sides. Make sure your children know that you’re excited that they have a close relationship with both you and your spouse, so they don’t feel conflicted. If they want to share a funny story or moment that they had with your ex, they should feel encouraged to do so.
Avoid Creating Stress
You want to avoid adding stress at all costs. Even though you might feel stressed and anxious about finances, schedules, and other complications related to your divorce, don’t let your children hear you voicing your complaints and frustrations. Children easily absorb anxiety and stress, and you don’t worry about how to make things better for mom or dad.
Going through a divorce is never easy. Don’t let things get overwhelming before reaching out for help if you need it. School counselors, family counseling, and support groups can be instrumental as you navigate through these uncharted waters. Keep in mind that taking care of yourself helps you better take care of your children. Keep your physical, mental, and emotional health a priority so you can be the best possible parent to your children.
Trusted Divorce Lawyers in Houston Ready to Help
At Stepp & Sullivan, PC, we understand how difficult divorces can be for families with children. With more than 70 years of combined experience in family law, we’ve helped countless families through the many challenges that arise when going through a divorce.
When you work with our family lawyers, you receive nothing short of compassionate and focused representation. For a free consultation with one of our Houston family lawyers, call our office at (713) 336-7200 or complete an online contact form today.