A Guide to Healthy Divorce Behavior with Children

Child of divorceIt is wonderful and great when couples therapy is successful. The couple feels energized and closer than they were before, and has learned better ways of communicating with each other. For some couples that is not the case as they may present to therapy after years of arguments and lack of communication. These couples are often highly conflicted or completely withdrawn from each other, fostering resentment and feelings of hurt. Some couples who present to therapy so late in the game often decide divorce is the only option, as difficult as it may be. The transition of divorce is difficult for both partners, and many parents naturally worry about the well-being of their children during and after this time. The following rules can help parents protect their children as much as possible from emotional harm.

  • Do not point blame or accept responsibility for the infertility. There are many things in life over which we have no control, and this is just one of them.
  • Do not put your child in the middle. Communicate directly with your ex, never pump your child for information, and never have them avenge you or manipulate your ex.
  • Do not ask your child to choose a parent. Children need to feel free to love both parents.
  • Do not assign fault to the divorce. Marriage is composed of two people contributing to the problem. Do not tell children things they do not need to know that will hurt their relationship with the other parent.
  • Do not talk negatively about your ex within earshot of your children. To think of one parent as being “bad” gets internalized by children who often assume they must then be bad too.
  • Keep appropriate boundaries with your children. Do not allow children to assume a parental role, or one of a counselor or a friend. They need to be allowed to be children.
  • Keep transitions to a minimum. Try to avoid having starting a new school, moving, and quick remarriages. And the child needs familiar things in both homes.
  • Stay involved in your child’s life. It is your responsibility to manage the pain of transition while still nurturing your child.
  • Do not engage in conflict with your ex in-front of the children. Continued conflict can be very damaging to children.
  • Tell your children that the divorce is not their fault. Often children assume that the parent left the family because they were bad. Repeat this at each developmental level as children incorporate information differently as each stage.
  • Take care of yourself and get on with your life as best as you can. Children adjust to divorce in direct proportion to how well their parents adjust.
  • Allow your children to express their feelings and listen to them.
  • Make sure your child has as much access to both parents as possible. Only if it is healthy for the child.
  • When children ask why your and ex divorced, respond in a developmentally appropriate way.
  • Provide your child with reading materials on adjustment to divorce. There are many storybooks that normalize divorce for younger children.
  • Allow your child to enjoy their visits with the other parent. Show interest in the specific activities they did while with the other parent. It is important for children to be allowed to have a good relationship with both parents without fear of hurting the other parent’s feelings.