How to Support Your Child During Your Divorce

Daughter sitting sadly while her parents are fighting

Divorce is a painful process, and unfortunately, children often experience the impact of divorce long after it is over. It is common for children to exhibit frequent, intense emotional outbursts or sudden shifts in their mood and mannerisms during a separation or divorce. As a parent, you might feel frustrated when your child exhibits a wide range of emotions throughout this process. Still, it is essential to remember that their feelings are valid and that open-mindedness and compassion are vital.

Signs That Your Child Is Having Difficulty Accepting Your Divorce 

Divorce can leave children feeling inadequate and insecure, which frequently leads to a sense of low self-esteem. These feelings often lead to the child becoming significantly socially withdrawn and isolated, resulting in strong feelings of grief and sadness. One of the most common reactions to divorce is feelings of guilt or self-blame. Your child might blame themselves for your divorce, develop the belief that they have somehow caused the divorce, or even failed to prevent it from occurring. 

Oppositional acting out and aggressive behaviors are common amongst children of divorced parents. Your child may exhibit a significant increase in the frequency and severity of their oppositional acting out and aggressive behaviors. Some children even turn to drugs or alcohol to block out the emotional pain related to separation or divorce. They may also experience a decline in school performance due to a loss of interest or motivation to achieve academic success.

Ways to Help Your Child Through Divorce

One of the most important things you can do for your child during a separation or divorce is to facilitate the expression of feelings. Provide them with opportunities to express their feelings and ask questions about the divorce along with subsequent changes in the family system. Develop an understanding of unmet needs, and collaborate with them to identify ways to meet those needs. 

Use affirmative language to eliminate your child’s feelings of guilt and shame by offering reassurance that they did not cause the divorce. Also, emphasize the fact that there is nothing they can do to prevent it. This may need to be reiterated to them over some time. 

Maintain visitation and spend one-on-one time with the child as often as possible. Doing this will reinforce the fact that they are your priority and help ease the frustration and apprehension felt during a shift in the family dynamic. Maintaining a solid visitation schedule can provide stability for your child as well as you and your ex-spouse.  

Reinforce healthy coping mechanisms by empowering your child’s ability to cope with the separation or divorce. Both family and individual counseling can give your child a safe space to identify and work through the emotions that cause them to feel angry and exhibit aggressive behaviors. 

There might even be times when your child pins one parent against the other or tries to make one or both parents feel guilty about the divorce to obtain material goods or avoid responsibility. It is vital not to allow guilty feelings about the divorce to interfere with the need to impose consequences for such behaviors. Set firm limits and boundaries when it comes to your child’s aggressive or manipulative behaviors. If possible, work with a family therapist that can offer you guidance and support throughout this process.  

If your child begins to struggle academically, reach out to their academic authorities to inform them of the circumstances. Build a rapport with teachers and maintain contact with them so you can receive regular updates on your child’s academic performance. Develop a routine schedule and consider employing a reward system. 

Getting along with your former spouse may not always be possible. Still, it is your responsibility to avoid putting your child in a toxic environment by criticizing or bad-mouthing your former spouse in front of them. 

Making hostile or overly critical remarks might feel good at the moment. Still, those words can cause irreparable damage to your relationship with your child or your child’s relationship with your former spouse. Additionally, this is a prime example of putting your child in the middle. It is equally important to avoid sending messages or soliciting information through your child. 

The most impactful way you can support your child throughout the divorce process is to seek the help of a family therapist. The goal of family therapy is to repair dysfunctional relationships through the use of customized treatment plans. Of course, individual counseling is equally helpful. Nevertheless, going to therapy as a family reinforces that neither you nor your child is alone in this process. 

Divorce can create very intense feelings of sadness, hurt, and disappointment.  It is common for children to feel the brunt of the divorce and actually blame themselves. Often, they have a great deal of difficulty controlling the emotions that they are experiencing. It is extremely important to identify ways that you can effectively assist your child with the development of adaptive coping mechanisms. These skills will work to assist them to process and healthily work through their feelings and emotions. Family therapy can offer you, your child, and your ex-spouse an opportunity to work through family issues and make a smooth transition to a new family dynamic. Valiant Living offers outpatient therapy that aims to overcome intimacy disorders by restoring relationships and strengthening emotional bonds. If you, your family, or someone you love is looking to overcome intimacy disorders and would like more information about our program, contact us at 303-952-5035.