Court Compliance Education

Divorce and Children’s Mental Health: How to Best Support Them

divorce and children's mental health

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About 50% of children will see their parents divorce. This means that divorce is a “normal” experience for a child, but it doesn’t feel like one. There’s a connection between divorce and children’s mental health, and it’s not a positive one. 

As a parent, it’s your job to make this process as easy as possible for your child(ren). We’re here to help. Read on to learn all about what you can do to help support your child during and after the divorce.

First: The Connection Between Divorce and Children’s Mental Health

While it’s true that divorce can be better for a child than living in a stressful household with parents who aren’t getting along, that doesn’t mean that divorce is harmless. Even in the best situations in which both parents are still getting along, live near each other (or even together), and are both around to support the child, this will be a difficult situation.

The connection between children’s age and divorce is a factor. Young children may have a harder time adapting than older children, and if you’re not careful, there could be long-lasting effects. 

Divorce is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). That means that it’s something that could cause trauma to a child and impact them in the future. 

Divorce is almost always traumatic in some capacity, but if you’re supportive you’ll be able to minimize the damage. You can have a happy and well-adjusted child!

Collaborate With Your Co-Parent If Possible

Your co-parent is not your enemy, even if it feels like they are. Whether the divorce was amicable or not, you need to work together to create a better life for your child(ren). 

Create a plan that works for both of you (as well as your custody agreement). Talk about what details you will and will not share with the children. When you’re sharing space, make sure you seem to get along, even if it’s only for the child. 

Your children’s living arrangement is changing, but collaborating will make that change easier to absorb.

Create an Open and Accepting Environment

If your child is only enough to understand, at least on some level, what’s going on, you need to create an environment in which it’s safe to share feelings and ask questions. 

Let your child know that you’re always there for them and that you have an open-door policy. If they have a question about the divorce, answer it in an age-appropriate way instead of lying. 

This will help you build up trust that may have been lost as a result of the divorce.

Ask Your Child About Their Feelings

Children aren’t always good at sharing their feelings. If they’re young enough, they may not even be able to identify those feelings in the first place. 

It’s helpful, at least at first, to start a conversation with your child about their feelings. Teenagers may resist this, but keep with it. Don’t push the issue, but consider getting your older child a journal where they can write their feelings instead.

Younger children may need you to lead the way. Use simple emotion words like “sad,” “scared,” “angry,” and “confused” (among others) to help your child express themself.

You can also use flashcards with different depictions of those emotions so your child can have an easier time identifying them. 

Use Books and Shows 

Luckily, there are many available children’s books and shows that depict divorce and what comes after. Artists and creators understand that divorce is common, and they want to help children understand that things are going to be okay. 

Look for picture books about divorce if you have young children. Read those books with them before bedtime. Read the books on your own first just to make sure they’re appropriate. 

Children have an easy time identifying with characters they relate to. This can help them come to terms with what’s happening and understand that divorce is okay.

Remain Calm

You’re dealing with a lot of emotions right now! While you have your child with you, you need to keep them under control.

It’s okay to express yourself. Explaining to your child that you feel upset is okay (and will show them that expressing options is healthy). You should still be calm, however.

Children respond to your emotions. The calmer you are, the calmer they’ll be. 

Never Speak Ill of Your Former Spouse

This one is tough for parents who are not on good terms, but it’s also crucial. You should never speak ill of the other parent around your child.

Remember that to your child, their parents are everything. Having a healthy relationship with both parents is in the best interest of the child, but that won’t happen if you’re criticizing your co-parent. 

Do Fun Things

Your child needs to know that things can still be good after the divorce. You shouldn’t go overboard (normalcy is best), but you should try to engage your child in fun activities when you can. 

Take your child to the park, get them involved in group outings, and find other ways to bond. Bonding is an important part of child stabilization. They need to know they’re still an important part of the family even if the family is dividing. 

Don’t use this as an opportunity to outdo the other parent. 

Find Extra Support for Your Child

You and your child’s other parent are offering as much support as possible but look for other avenues of support as well.

Talk to your child’s school about support options. Most schools have counselors and some even have special groups for children of divorce. It can also be helpful to discuss the situation with the child’s teacher so they know your child may be a bit dysregulated after the divorce.

If necessary, consider getting a therapist for your child. 

Support Your Child Through the Divorce

Divorce is stressful for parents, but it may be even more stressful for children. The connection between divorce and children’s mental health is clear. For a child to have a positive experience, you and your co-parent need to prioritize the wellbeing of your child(ren). 

Are you waiting to take your Florida parent education and family education course? At only $18.95, we’ve made it affordable. Start your course today

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