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Ready, Set, Grow: Rules of Divorce

Amy Terreros, Advanced Practice RN II, SCAN Clinic (Child Abuse and Neglect)

Every year, thousands of children experience the divorce of their parents. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, between 40 and 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.

Separation and divorce are emotionally charged events — even for adults — and can be especially traumatic for children. If you are facing such issues, you can help ease the transition for your kids based on how well you work with your former spouse.

The end of a marriage brings a lot of emotions for adults involved, including anger, grief, sadness and fear. This can make it extremely difficult to put your own feelings aside and remember to put your kids first, but it is imperative to do so. Your marriage may end, but your role as parents has not. Healthychildren.org recommendations follow.

* Never involve your children in arguments or force them to take sides. They will always have loyalties to both parents.

* Do not criticize each other in front of your kids or when they might overhear you. Should they hear negative comments you may have made, explain that sometimes people get angry and say hurtful things.

* Discuss your concerns and feelings with your former spouse when your children are not around.

* Always avoid fighting in front of your kids.

Talk to Your Children

Kids need to learn about what’s happening in the family early-on, and, the more you discuss it, the more comfortable they will feel. Children should be able to tell you about their fears and worries about the divorce and the impending changes. How you respond to their feelings of loss, anxiety and grieving can help them adjust to this major life change successfully. Healthychildren.org offers these guidelines.

* Be open and honest about what is going to happen. Talk about it in simple terms children can understand. For example, “Your dad and I are having some trouble getting along,” or “Your mother and I are thinking that we need to live separately.”

* Reassure your children that the divorce is not their fault. Let them know they are not able to fix the problems. Give your kids permission to continue to love each parent.

* Try not to blame your ex-spouse or show your anger.

* Give your children permission to express feelings of sadness, anger and disappointment.

* Allow time for questions. You don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes active listening is more helpful than talking. Children may ask why you are getting divorced, if you will get back together, where they will live, if the divorce was their fault, where they will spend holidays, etc.

Let them know their feelings are valid by saying “I know you feel sad now” or “I know you miss Mom/Dad.” Be a good listener even if what your kids say is difficult to hear. You may notice behavioral changes in your children, which will vary based on their development. Young children may become clingier or have nightmares, whereas older children might have decreased academic performance, moodiness and aggressive behaviors and could begin acting out by experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol. These behaviors suggest that children are not coping well with the current situation and should prompt you to reach out to your healthcare provider or a counselor in your area.


Read the full article via Ready, Set, Grow.

Learn more about the Child Abuse and Neglect program at Children’s Mercy.