Going through a divorce is hard. Kids being involved makes it even harder. As you change from spouses to co-parents, focus on your kids’ needs. Even if your marriage ends, you are still parents together.
As a psychologist, I want to help make this change smooth for your kids. I have tips based on research to help safeguard your kids during and after divorce.
Understanding Your Child's Experience
First, know how your child feels. Divorce is a huge change in a kid’s life.
Their family and routine change. Kids often feel shocked, worried, mad, guilty or sad that their parents split up. Reactions vary by age:
- Preschoolers may cling, have sleep issues or act younger. They may think it’s their fault. They need reassurance.
- Grade school kids may worry about where they’ll live or money. Some act out while others withdraw. School struggles can happen.
- Teens often hide feelings but feel intense anger or depression inside. Drug/alcohol use, risky behaviors or defiance can occur.
Understanding how your child feels allows you to respond with care. Provide ways for them to express themselves. Give reassurance during this tough change.
Keep Communication Open
Once divorce starts, communication often suffers between parents. But staying in touch should be a top goal.
Kids worry about losing contact with one parent after divorce. Reassure them by setting regular visits with each of you. Work together on a custody schedule that fits everyone’s needs. Be flexible when changes happen.
Discuss important school events, activities, trips and anything kid-related. Don’t assume – check before signing them up during the other parent’s time.
Share updates on health, progress, challenges and news. Tools like OFW can help document. Email works too for calm talks. Focus on the kids.
Present a United Front
Nothing worries kids more than parents disagreeing over rules and choices. Kids do best when parents agree on expectations and discipline.
You and your ex may parent differently. But work out differences privately. Agree before informing kids of changes after divorce. If one parent sets a new rule, the other should support it when kids are there.
Discuss major choices like schools, overnight trips, activities and non-urgent medical procedures together before deciding. For daily choices, defer to the parent with custody then.
Make a shared doc detailing agreements, guidelines, rules and schedules. This helps minimize confusion and update when needed.
Manage Transitions Thoughtfully
Exchanging kids between homes needs care around their feelings. Make hand-offs feel stable and calm.
Avoid fights in front of kids – especially at pick-up/drop-off. They may feel caught in the middle. If needed, discuss sensitive issues privately before or after.
Stick to the visitation schedule except emergencies. Follow routines for location, timing, packing favorite items and saying bye/hello. Kids want regularity. Keep talking politely, not critical.
If appropriate, include the other parent at special events – games, recitals, conferences – even during your time. Your flexibility shows kids you can still parent together.
Ensure children have keepsakes, pictures, and presents from their other home to prevent them from feeling that part is forgotten. Support their relationship.
Shield Kids From Adult Issues
Kids should never be in the middle of grown-up fights. Protect them from the practical and emotional aspects of divorce.
Never criticize or demonize your ex in front of your kids – even if you’re upset. Stay neutral if you mention their parent. Bad-mouthing confuses and upsets kids.
Don’t ask kids for information about your ex’s personal life either. Discussing money, dating or other private matters with your kids is wrong. They are not messengers or confidants.
If conflicts continue, get professional help via counseling or mediation. Or find a neutral third party for exchanges. Don’t expose kids to arguments. Focus on their wellbeing.
Overall, aim for polite co-parenting, not close friendship. Cooperate but keep appropriate emotional boundaries. Keep talks kid-focused.
Agree On Rules and Discipline
Nothing worries kids faster than different rules and discipline between homes. Early on, agree on expectations.
Discuss bedtimes, screen time, homework, chores, health practices and other consistency areas. Having structure disappear when switching houses is unsettling.
Ideally, align daily routines as much as possible in each home. Kids benefit from regular schedules around waking, bedtime, meals, schoolwork, activities and unwind time.
Also coordinate discipline approaches when possible so kids aren’t confused about consequences for behaviors. Parenting varies, but find common ground.
Check in as kids get older or if challenges arise. You must unite on big issues like substance use, school, curfews and safety.
Encourage Parent Contact
Unless a parent is unsafe, kids need time with both parents after divorce. Don’t prioritize one household over the other.
Research shows kids who lose contact with a parent often struggle more emotionally and emotionally after divorce. They may feel rejected if a parent disengages.
Of course, one parent may eventually move away or get a job that complicates visits. Or as kids get older, activities limit availability. Still try to maximize time together.
Encourage contact in between visits – calls, texts, letters, care packages. Be generous with visitation during vacations, holidays and school breaks if distance is an issue.
Also, speak positively about the other parent’s involvement. Say you’re glad they had a fun weekend together. Don’t discourage contact by grilling or guilting kids after visits. Listen supportively.
Allow Kids to Love Both Parents
In divorce, it’s normal to worry your kids will dislike you more than your ex. But don’t compete for loyalty or love.
Statements forcing kids to choose sides – like “You love your dad more!” – cause anxiety. Kids shouldn’t have to hide feelings for one parent to please the other.
Support your child’s relationship with both parents. If they’re excited after a fun outing with the other parent, share their joy. Don’t take it personally. No scorekeeping in co-parenting.
And let kids express difficult emotions too. If they’re sad to leave Mom, let them tell Dad without guilt. Help them process complex divorce feelings rather than repressing them.
Most importantly, never manipulate favor through bribes, guilt trips or comparisons. Love fully, not conditionally. Your love is their foundation.
Maintain a Child Focus in New Relationships
Eventually moving on requires thoughtfulness when co-parenting. You have every right to rebuild your life, but be careful about introducing kids to new partners.
Be patient involving your kids, even if you want them to bond with someone important to you. Until the relationship is stable, limit contact and affection in front of kids. Early on, introduce new partners as a “friend,” not romantic interest.
Ensure partners understand and respect boundaries with your kids. Discuss expectations around discipline, gifts, roles, affection beforehand. Never force relationships prematurely.
Be extra sensitive introducing partners during custody transfers or at major child events. And don’t let new relationships damage communication with your co-parent. Protecting kids is the priority.
Manage Your Own Emotions First
Divorce is devastating for most people. Overwhelming grief, anger, loneliness and rejection are common. But be very careful not to lean on your kids for support during this hard time.
Kids should not act as substitutes for adult confidants or therapists. Don’t overburden them with details about marital problems, legal issues or your pain over the split. Get adult support.
Practice self-care through exercise, counseling, friend time, journaling – anything healthy that helps you process emotions properly. Don’t make your kids your only outlet.
Don’t hurt the kids by fighting for custody, bad-mouthing your ex, or using them as pawns because of your heartbreak. Always calm down before engaging.
Preserving your kids’ well-being must be the priority over your own healing. Protect them from becoming casualties of your divorce.
Create New Family Rituals
With the old family gone, establishing new rituals and traditions can provide comfort in this “new normal”.
Maybe cook a special breakfast together on Sundays when kids are home. Join a community soccer team for shared activity. Read bedtime stories together via video chat when apart.
Simple consistency like eating in the same diner after hand-offs or playing board games on Fridays provides stability. Let kids choose your new routines.
Also discuss adapting previous traditions like holidays, birthdays and trips to fit your new family structure. Keep special recipes, activities or places if possible.
Focus on creating joyful moments now. Over time your family can make celebrations and rituals unique to your new co-parenting relationship.
Divorce disrupts the life kids have known. As parents, guide them through this change in the healthiest way possible.
Limit their exposure to adult conflicts. Work together to meet your kids’ needs. Both parents should assure them through words and actions that they are loved unconditionally.
With maturity and commitment to co-parenting best practices, children can not only survive but thrive after divorce.
If you notice ongoing problems, seek professional help. Otherwise have faith that your kids will adjust well if you make them the priority. While marriage ends, family continues.
If you are going through divorce with kids involved, I know this can be an incredibly difficult change. My tips aim to provide guidance, but every family’s situation is unique.
I am willing to meet with you individually. We can discuss your situation and create a personalized plan. This plan will help your children adjust in the best way possible.
Please reach out to schedule a consultation where we can explore strategies for minimizing disruption and supporting your children emotionally.
I’m here to help you navigate this process successfully so your kids continue to feel safe, secure, and loved.
With compassion and commitment to cooperative co-parenting, we can build a strong foundation for your family’s future.