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How Can Parents Help Their Children Cope Successfully With Divorce?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


America’s children reflect the effects of what is happening to the American family. Never before have so many children faced so many problems: physical and sexual abuse, crime and

delinquency, depression and suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, emotional and behavioral

problems, learning difficulties, school problems, dropping out, poor grades, running away from home, pregnancy, abortion and STDs. Sometimes these problems result from unhealthy social or family relationships. They also may arise as a byproduct of an unhappy marriage or a damaging divorce.

Divorce can be a very painful and disruptive experience for children, with long-term effects.

Some children manage to survive their parents’ unhappy marriage and painful divorce and grow past it; other children suffer from the effects for years. How children are affected by divorce largely depends on their personality, the circumstance surrounding the divorce and the parents’ sensitivity to their children.

The following list presents ways parents can help their children cope successfully with divorce.

Much of how divorce affects children depends on how well parents handle the divorce process. Parents who can end their marriage in a mature and healthy way reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children. Parents must be sensitive to how each child is reacting to and handling this difficult experience.

  • Make certain the children understand that they did not cause the divorce.

  • Explain to the children the reasons for the divorce, using common sense as a guide.

  • Allow the children to express their feelings about the divorce.

  • Answer any questions the children may have about the divorce.

  • Do not lie or keep information from the children that will help them understand the reasons for the divorce.

  • Be sensitive to how each child is handling the divorce.

  • Help the children feel secure by showing love and commitment to them.

  • See that each child’s behavior remains appropriate to his or her current age and stage of development.

  • Allow the children to adjust to the divorce at their own rates.

  • Help the children maintain their usual routines.

  • Set a good example for the children by handling the divorce in a mature and healthy way.

  • Determine custody of the children based on a rational decision that meets the needs and best interests of the children.

  • Maintain regular contacts between the absent parent and the children.

  • Do not expect a child to fill the absent parent’s shoes.

  • Do not tamper with the children’s love or loyalty to the other parent.

  • Do not ask the children to take sides against the other parent.

  • Do not say bad things about the other parent.

  • Do not attempt to buy the children’s affections by playing “weekend Santa.”

  • Do not use the children as messengers or question them about the other parent.

  • Spend quality time alone with each child so that he or she feels like a special individual.

  • Seek professional help for the entire family or any family member experiencing difficulty with the divorce.*

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