Open Communication: Helping Children Through Divorce
The traditional litigated divorce process can cause high stress for parents, extended family and friends, and especially children. Even when parents begin the court process without harmful intentions, divorce litigation often becomes a long and emotionally exhausting process for children. Regardless of how spouses may feel about each other, as parents, they should work together to help children process their feelings in the healthiest way.
While every family and situation is unique, some universal practices help reduce stress for children during divorce. Parents can begin by choosing divorce mediation, instead of engaging in a court battle. Many divorcing couples find that reaching mutual agreements during divorce mediation reduces their level of conflict, and in turn, reduces stress for kids.
Communication is Key
Parents should strive to create an environment of open and honest communication with their children. When children feel safe, and supported, parents can encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings about the divorce. Whether children have positive or negative thoughts to share, let them know that their feelings are valid.
Parents can make time to sit down with their children to check in with where they are emotionally. It may be very difficult to hear your children’s voice and expressions of sadness, anger or confusion, remembering that children need this time to be heard and understood can keep parents focused.
Be prepared to answer tough questions and address any concerns that the children may have about the divorce process and the future. This open line of communication should be ongoing throughout the divorce process and after it is finalized. As time goes on and children grow, it is possible that they will continue to ask questions surrounding the divorce. Both parents should continue answering questions to the best of their ability and let the children know that their voice matters. Parents should also check in with one another to ensure that they are being consistent in their explanations.
Keep Children Away from Conflict
It can seem nearly impossible for some divorcing couples to shield their children from spousal arguments and tension related to divorce. Decades of research confirms that children’s exposure to arguments, high conflict, and negative comments made by one parent about the other can directly impact children’s long-term emotional and psychological health. Venting about the divorce and any negative commentary about your the other parent in the presence of children can force children to feel they need to choose sides. This typically results in children feeling unstable, afraid and angry. Long term problems with self-esteem and anxiety would also be common. While it is important to keep the conflict away from the children, it is also important to be open about certain realities, taking their age and developmental stage into account. As always, take their questions seriously and do your best to treat them with honesty and respect.
Learn to Co-Parent
With the help of child custody mediation, former spouses can come to a custody and parenting agreement that considers what is best for everyone in the family. This type of parenting mediation also helps lay the groundwork for a supportive and successful co-parenting relationship. Unlike traditional litigation, mediation also allows the parents, not a judge, to have the final say in how their children will be living during the divorce and after the case has been settled. Taking the time helping children through divorce by working together is the best way for parents to ensure that their children know they are safe, secure and loved by everyone their family.