Coping with Divorce: A Guide for Parents with Young Children

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Divorce is hard. It can be emotionally draining, saddening, stressful, frustrating and difficult. Us as parents feel these emotions, and our kids feel them too.

Parents who put off divorce usually do it for their children, not for themselves. We put our children before ourselves. We would rather watch our children thrive than thrive ourselves (I mean both would be ideal).

When it comes to teenagers, they typically become more independent through the divorce process. Independence usually comes with risk-taking, aggressive behaviors, becoming more emotionally and physically distant and rebellious. I’m sure a lot of parents can relate to these behaviors.

With younger children it tends to be the opposite. They become more dependent of you, which means they become clingier, needy and rely on you more. It’s not uncommon for kids to back track- they might start bed-wetting, stop toilet training, have more tantrums, and be whinier along with other challenging behaviors.

Regardless if you have a young child or a teen, it’s HARD. None of it is easy for anyone whatsoever. Here are some ways to help your children (and you as a parent) cope with divorce:

Have Open Communication

I’m not talking about being open about your arguments with your ex husband or wife, you should avoid talking about that.

Be open. Talk with your kid from the start of the divorce to the end. If your spouse starts sleeping on the couch or in the guest room, your child WILL notice. Children are extremely observant. You might not think they are noticing these little changes, but they are.

Explain to them that you and your husband (or wife) need some space from each other. Try relating to a time when your kid was arguing with a friend or was frustrated and being alone. Normalizing will help them understand and to have less anxiety about the situation.

When you and your significant other are getting to the point where one of you is going to be moving out, you should be including your children in these conversations early on. Giving them time to cope and understand what is happening will make the transition a little easier (it’ll still be hard though).

Create Predictability

A lot of the behavior problems that come with divorce stems from the child being uncertain about what is going to happen that day or down the road. This is especially true with young children.

Creating consistency in your child’s life as much as you can through all of the change will help them feel more secure. Have a sat routine and schedule. Communicate this schedule and remind them of what is happening every day.

Don’t just have a routine for what your kids go back and forth between homes, have a set routine for all aspects of their life. Their morning and nightly routines should be consistent at both houses. You might not want to communicate with your ex on routines, but it is important. Swallow your pride and come up with routines that work for both of you.

For example: wake your kids up at the same time. Feed the similar foods. Have the same rules and expectations within your homes (as much as possible).

Familiarity and consistency are both key in helping your child cope with all of the big changes going on around them.

Reassurance

A lot of kids who experience divorce at a young age get this mindset that maybe they will get left behind too. They will worry a lot more than a child who has not experienced divorce.

Reassure your children regularly that you will always be there for them and that you will always show up. Make sure you actions stay true to your words. For example, if you say you are going to have lunch with them at school one day, don’t bail. As soon as you break your word one time, your child is going to be unsure if you will follow through in the future.

You can talk to them about how common divorce is. If you know of any families that have gone through divorce and are doing okay, you should talk to your kids about them and try to normalize what is going on. Normalizing will help it seem less scary.

No Smack Talking

If can being easy to bad mouth your spouse in front of your kids when you are going through a divorce, or after it has happened. You should avoid this at all costs. Try to not let them overhear you speaking with others about it too. Even if your ex doesn’t show up when they are supposed to, make it about you and your child, not your ex. Talk about how you are there for them and always will be.

Even if it kills you, you should only speak positively about your ex in front of your kids. Leave your kids out of the mess. Staying optimistic and positive (even if you’re faking it) in front of your kids will help them feel more confident that everything is going to be okay.

It’s healthy to vent so feel free to do it with friends or family members outside of the home.

Let Your Child Grieve

Divorce is sad and scary. Let your child be upset. Get upset with them. Validating their feelings will help them cope. Seeing them cry might be hard, but it’s healthy and normal. Hold them, hug them and love them.

Take care of Yourself

It’s hard to be a good parent if you aren’t taking care of yourself. It’s okay to step away and take a day for yourself. You need to grieve, heal and find happiness within yourself.

Write down a list of things that bring you joy and try to incorporate them into your life regularly. Maybe you like watching shitty reality TV (pardon my French), or hiking, or baking. Whatever it is, do it. Life is too short to not be happy. Your kids will survive a weekend with their grandparents every once in a while.

Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up or something doesn’t go as planned. You’re human. If you loose your cool, learn from it. Don’t let it get you down.

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Published by Maggie Stephens, MS

Hi, I'm Maggie! I have been working in the child behavior field for over 8 years. I have bachelor degree in Early Childhood Development and Educations as well as a Masters degree in psychology. I am passionate about children and their developing minds and wanting to spread the knowledge in an enjoyable way. Don't hesitate to reach out to me at recipeforparenting@gmail.com Follow my personal instagram at @magstephens to get to know me better!

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