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How To Help Your Children Deal With Divorce

Divorce, while not ideal, occurs in many families. Experts predict that 2020 may be the largest single-year divorce increase in decades due to the lockdown creating financial strain and political discord. According to family law attorneys of Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, while we won’t have a picture of the fallout until 2021 at the earliest, currently the divorce rate per 1,000 women in America is 16.9%, which is nearly double that of the rate in the 1960s, but still much lower than the numbers seen in the early 1980s, which were around 22.6. In America, every 13 seconds, there is a divorce. Half of all children in America will witness the end of a parent’s marriage. 

So, how do you navigate divorce with your children? Every family is different, and divorce is often the first step to a new normal that will hopefully result in a happier home life down the line for everyone involved. Depending on the age of the children, there are different ways to approach divorce, but regardless of age, both parties have to be on the same page. That is essential before any step forward can begin. It is also beneficial to tell your children together, not separately. Let the children know that this is not their fault, as many will think that the divorce is about them. Divorce can be messy, but the fallout can be mitigated with a solid plan of action that both parents agree on. Once you work out a plan, here are some tips on how to address the change with your children. 

Babies and Toddlers

Very young children do not have a clear sense of reality when it comes to their lives—they just know their normal. Young children are unable to process future situations or their feelings yet. During a divorce, it is important to be there, keep a routine, and love on those little ones as much as you can! Make the transition an easy one, and always remind them that both parties love them and always will. As long as love is the basis, as they grow and mature, they will have an easier time dealing with having split parents. 

Preschoolers

Preschoolers are still highly dependent on others, and they still cannot imagine future scenarios. The world, in their minds, revolves around them. This can make divorce extra difficult because it may not look like Mom left Dad, but Mom left me. It’s important to look for changes in behavior as the transition progresses and to keep a consistent routine. This will help a child fall into their new normal faster. When questions arise, keep them short and concise. And remember, this is a process, and it is going to take some time. 

School aged children

Around age five, feelings are beginning to develop that a child can begin to navigate. Their world changes, and they are able to understand why someone else may feel a certain way. The concept of divorce may still be difficult to navigate in these early years, but continuing to keep a routine is very important. Children in this school-aged category will also start to develop friendships with others, which is very helpful in children understanding what’s going on around them.

Once your children are a little older, around eight or nine years old, they may want to talk about their feelings more. Introducing books that discuss divorce can be a helpful way to get the conversation going. Being honest with children is important, but they do not need to know all of the details. What they do need is to be reminded that they are loved, that they are safe, and that they are a part of a family. 

Preteens

Around age eleven, kids start middle school, which is probably one of the more difficult age groups to handle. They possess the ability to understand more about what divorce actually is and ask more questions. This makes the process more complex, but in some cases, easier to steer. When children have a better understanding and can envision the future with each parent, it’s usually easier for them to accept and adjust. Children at this age are also able to develop more relationships outside of the home. Maybe they will have a friend who has or is going through something similar, and they can seek guidance through those relationships.

Allowing your kids to ask questions and keeping answers simple and concise can be difficult but is critical to effectively handling the situation. Even if they seem standoffish or start to question parental authority, you must be persistent in connecting with them—all children long to feel loved by their parents, regardless of if they are together or not. 

With any age, being there for your children is the best way to help them cope. Minimizing conflict between both parents is crucial to making it to the other side as unscathed as possible. Divorce is never easy when there are children involved, but it is not the end of the world. Remind your children that both parents will be much happier as individuals. Try co-parenting as best you can to maintain parental authority. Make sure to take time to find new activities to try to build a strong bond now that you have a new normal. You’ve got this!

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