How to Help Children Through a Divorce or Separation

How to help children through divorce or separation

Here’s the good news: Because of the brain’s natural plasticity, you can work to shape and nurture your child’s development in healthier ways, even if they have encountered adverse experiences. 

Suppose you or your co-parent has knowingly or unknowingly put your child in the middle. In that case, I recommend the following actions to help them regain a sense of security and minimise the stress and confusion of a breakup or divorce:

  1. Behave and interact as if your co-parenting team is a business whose sole purpose is to raise a child. Be respectful and cordial when interacting to decrease conflict.
  2. Become aware of ways you may put your child in the middle. Decrease and eliminate situations and behaviours that put your child in the middle.
  3. Do your healing work to understand how your emotions, needs, and past experiences might lead you to put your child in the middle. Therapy will be enormously helpful for you.
  4. Keep the focus on your child, their needs, and the memories you want them to have. Be present and help them process any feelings they may have. Listen and without judgement.
  5. Work toward presenting a united front with your co-parent so your child doesn’t have to pick a side or protect either of you.
  6. Allow your child to love both their parents.
  7. If your co-parent still puts your child in the middle, ensure they don’t feel in the middle when they are at home with you. Instead of trying to justify or prove you are right, model and teach respectful communication, cooperation, healthy boundaries, and safety.
  8. Use a co-parenting app, such as Co-Operate, or if need be, a mediator or lawyer so you can make agreements and discuss scheduling changes and requests directly with your co-parent instead of through your child.

References

Lange, A. M. C., Visser, M. M., Scholte, R. H. J., & Finkenauer, C. (2021). Parental conflicts and posttraumatic stress of children in high-conflict divorce families. Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, 15(3), 615–625. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-021-00410-9

Russell, G., & Lightman, S. (2019). The human stress response. National Review of Endocrinology, 15, 525–534.

About The Author

Reducing conflict for co-parents

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