No matter how carefully parents plan, divorce brings major change to a child's life. When parents divorce, it is common for children to feel scared, uncertain, and helpless. Some children blame themselves for the divorce. They may have fears of loss, change, conflict, betrayal, and loneliness— even years later.
Here are some tips to help your children through divorce.
Talking to your children about divorce is hard. In fact, many parents try to avoid it. Other parents make up stories to help their children feel better. What is the best thing to do? These steps can help.
Help your child develop a sense of trust. They need to be prepared for changes that are coming. Give them enough information and be as truthful as possible. Children do not need to know the whole truth. For example, do not discuss the other parent's faults or problems. As children get older or ask more questions, you can tell them more. Think about the children's ages and ability to understand. Be prepared to answer questions and reassure them.
Make sure to tell the children that:
Reassure without glossing things over. Do not make comments such as "everything will be fine."
Look carefully for ongoing changes in your children's behavior. However, be careful not to interpret every temper tantrum as emotional scarring from the divorce. Toddlers may regress or become more needy and clingy. School-aged children may get lower grades or act out aggressively in anger. Teens may experiment with drugs, sex, or gangs to feel like they belong. Children who show no signs of change should also be carefully watched.
Find resources for divorced parents and their children. These may include classes, support groups, and therapists. Be sure to get help for the children if they are not adjusting well.
If you are getting divorced, put your children first. Be sure to:
Even though you are divorced, you are still parents. It is still very important to work together.
Co-parenting can be difficult. Even so, many divorced parents handle their parenting roles well. Strong bonds can grow. Parents can help give their children some sense of control over their futures. This depends on honest talk and careful listening.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
Mental Health Canada
Children & divorce. Helpguide website. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/children-and-divorce.htm. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Children and divorce. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology website. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-and-Divorce-001.aspx. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Depression in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/depression-in-children-and-adolescents. Accessed November 3, 2021.
Tips for divorcing parents. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/divorce.html?ref=search . Accessed November 3, 2021.
Last reviewed November 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 11/3/2021