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Helping Children Cope With Divorce

Divorce is never easy
Divorce can be hard on the entire family, both parents and children. However, sometimes there isn't any alternative when two people have differences that they can't work out. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to prepare your child for your divorce. Try to keep it as simple as possible, because what matters most to children is how their lives will and will not change. Try to have both parents present and be civil with each other. The most important thing is to reassure children that the divorce is not their fault.

Tips for getting your family through these changes
Support your child. Children react differently to divorce, depending on their age, personality, and the situation. Some children need outside help from an unrelated person in coming to terms with the divorce because it may be too hard for them to talk to a parent. Consider looking for a psychologist for your child to help her sort through her feelings if she is having trouble coping and does no talk to you or your ex-spouse. You can get a recommendation from your pediatrician or your child's school counselor. If you have more than one child, each one may have different feelings about the situation and towards one or both parents. Your older child might be ready to give up on a parent that disappoints him while your younger child may still look up to that parent.

Be consistent. Your children will have an easier time adjusting to this big change in their life if you can keep their routine the same. Sit down with your ex-spouse and go over things like chores, bedtimes, allowance, the homework routine, and the amount of television and computer time allowed, and agree to keep these things consistent between your two households. Try to work together to make each home's environment as similar as possible. Also, make sure you know what few favorite things your children may want to take back and forth or have two of to make them feel just as comfortable at one home as the other.

Be flexible. In many divorced families, parents either share custody or one parent has primary custody and the other parent gets the children on certain weekends and holidays. Whatever the arrangement may be, try to be flexible for the sake of your children. Focus on what is best for them, and avoid a power struggle with your ex-spouse. For example, if your child is supposed to spend the weekend at dad's but her friend is having a birthday party and dad lives far away, arrange to swap a weekend so that she does not miss out on the birthday party or the time with dad.

Be respectful of the other parent. Although you may have your differences and disagreements with your ex-spouse, remember that she is your child's other parent. Even if your ex-spouse sometimes disappoints your child by failing to show up at an event at school or canceling on a weekend visit, sympathize with your child without saying anything negative about the other parent. For example, let him know that you realize he is disappointed that mom canceled their visit for the weekend, but she does love him. As your child gets older, he will form his own opinions and define his relationship with each of you, but while your child is young, you should do your best to support his relationship with both parents. If your ex-spouse is consistently absent from your child's life, you may consider finding another adult role model for him to spend time with, such as a Big Brother.

Take care of yourself. Divorce is hard on parents as well as children. You have gone from having a live-in support system to being a single parent. Even if you were used to taking care of your children on your own, there was still someone around to share the worry with and count on in an emergency. Try not to rely on your children for company and emotional support. Many communities have single parent support groups. Don't be afraid to ask friends and family for help, and try to take a little time for yourself every now and then.

For more information, read Absentee parents by parenting expert Barbara Meltz and the KidsHealth article Helping Your Child Through a Divorce .


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