Adjusting to divorce is one of the toughest things kids can go through. Although you can’t change the reality of divorce, you can do things to help prepare your children for the changes to come. Here are five ways to ease your kids’ transition from living in an in tact family to a family with two homes.
Do a “dress rehearsal” before you tell your kids. Ideally, you and your spouse should prepare a “script” ahead of time. Even if you despise each other, it’s important to present a united front as much as possible so that your kids don’t get pulled into taking sides. Don’t overshare personal reasons for the divorce. It’s enough to say that you had adult problems you couldn’t fix, and after much thought, decided to end your marriage but remain committed to parenting. Preparing what you’re going to say ahead of time will help prevent arguing in front of the kids.
Anticipate – and prepare for – delayed reactions. Some kids appear to take news of the divorce in stride, then exhibit signs of distress weeks or months later. This is a normal grief reaction, as they move from shock or denial into sadness and anger. Let them know that their feelings may change, and that you’re there to help them through the transition.
Focus on what will stay the same. Divorce is tremendously destabilizing, so tell your kids what’s not going to change: for example, their school, proximity to friends, housing, even toys and bedroom furniture. If you don’t have an answer to something – where one of you will be moving, for instance – tell your kids you’ll let them know as soon as you figure it out. Most important: assure them you will always be their parents and you will always love them.
Tell them it’s okay to talk about it – but don’t push them. Your child may need to share his feelings and questions about the divorce, often repeatedly. Validate these feelings and let him know he can talk to you whenever he wants. But if your child doesn’t want to talk about the divorce, don’t try to engage him in a conversation. Kids process information in different ways; you don’t want to be intrusive by pressuring them to open up before they’re ready – or making them feel they have to take care of you. If your child seems shut down, tell him that you’re available if and when he wants to talk about the divorce.
Reassure kids it’s not their fault. Kids often think they did something to cause the divorce – and that they can “fix” it. Let them know that they had nothing to do with the breakdown in the marriage and remaining an in tact family wasn’t a viable option. Assure them that it’s not their job to solve grown-up problems, and that you and your spouse will do everything you can to help them adjust to the changes ahead.
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