Minimizing the Effects of Divorce on Children

Divorce is difficult for adults and the effects of divorce on children are perhaps even more painful. Though children may mourn the loss of their parents' marriage, a divorce does not mean they have to lose either parent. By preparing for questions ahead of time and preventing flare-ups between you and your former spouse, you can limit emotional distress and deal with the situation in a positive manner.

How to Break the News

After you have made the decision to end your marriage, the next step is to think about how to break the news to your children. You want to be sure that you and your spouse break the news as soon as possible, and don't wait until you actually file for divorce. Helping children through a divorce is tricky business and communication is key. If your children find out before you have had the chance to tell them, they may feel betrayed.

When breaking the news, remember that honesty is the best policy when navigating the divorce process. Explain that the divorce is not your children's fault. If possible, try to break the news with your ex present. Throughout the conversation, remember to repeat how much you and your spouse love your children, and the divorce will not change that. Also be sure to keep a level, calm tone, especially if your spouse is present for the conversation. If you yell or exchange words, you may traumatize your children.

Go into this conversation knowing how to answer questions about the divorce in advance. You and your ex should know where the kids will live, when they will move if that is necessary and when the divorce will be finalized.

Dealing with divorce when children are involved is never easy. Your children will be upset, and this is normal. Be emotionally available for your children and be prepared to comfort them as best you can.

Custody

When a marriage ends, the next thing to consider is how to handle the basic divorce procedures, especially custody arrangements. Where will the children live and for how long? Both parents should be present in their children's lives, and, though you may be upset with your ex, do not punish them by keeping the kids away.

Legal custody refers to who has control over decisions about a child's upbringing. Normally, the parents will share legal custody, and custody will change only if one of the parents is unable to make productive decisions regarding the children.

It helps to know several custody terms. One parent may have sole physical custody, or you may decide to have joint physical custody in which the children can live with each parent. If you and your ex live close to one another, joint physical custody makes sense, but, if you live states apart, you might consider having one parent with sole physical custody and visitation agreements for the other so your children don't feel the strain of constant travel.

You and your partner should try your best to work custody out by yourselves and without the strain of a long custody case. A drawn-out process will only increase your children's feelings of uncertainty about the future. You, your former spouse and your lawyers must make sure to work out an arrangement that fits with each parent's desires, job situation, financial means and logistics, all while keeping a timetable in mind.

How to Deal with Special Occasions

Special occasions will be affected by the divorce. You and your children might not spend all holidays, birthdays and other events together. Part of understanding children and divorce is that you will have to split or share these events with your ex.

If you take the time to discuss this with your former spouse in advance, you can head off arguments about who gets what holidays and how birthdays and graduation parties will work. Be sure to ask your children what they prefer. If you give them control over the situation, you may ease their distress, which is crucial.

How to Help Children Cope

Divorce is not something most people dream about. It's normal for you, your ex, and your children to be upset and to act out. Outbursts and intense displays of emotion can happen. As a result of their parents' divorce, children will typically feel anger and fear.

You need to realize that intense feelings are part of the process. Your attitude will affect your children's. If you walk around like you have a dark rain cloud hanging over you, your children might as well. If you express anger toward your spouse, your children might adopt your behavior, or they may turn that anger on you. You may be confused about the situation, but try to put on a strong face. The more you appear in control, the more likely it is that your children will feel stable.

During the divorce, children may feel they don't have control, but, if they have control over other aspects of their life, they may feel better. Let your children make more decisions. This will help them feel more in control of their lives and the overall situation. For example, give them as many options as possible when it comes to chores, dinner and weekend activities. However, don't over-apologize for the divorce by catering to their every whim or showering them with presents and money. Although giving your children material things may soothe your guilt over the divorce, your time and attention will be far more important in the long run.

For children, divorce is a huge disruption of a family's routine. To help combat this disruption, keep structure in your day-to-day life. For example, be consistent with meal times and rules, which will help your child adjust to the new situation.

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Divorce can be a bitter and acrimonious process. Child custody issues, particularly those that escalate to custody battles, can be particularly harmful to the child at issue as well as the parties engaged in the divorce.

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