These days, families come in many shapes and sizes. Some children are raised in a home with a mother and a father. Others are raised in a home with two moms, two dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or a combination of adults as caregivers. Many young children are raised in families where the parents have divorced. Young children living with parents who have split-up, or with parents who are living in separate homes may face strong emotions about their family situation. Parents can help their young children to feel supported, express themselves appropriately, and cope with their feelings surrounding the divorce in several ways.
The following are tips to help your young children deal with divorce:
- Remind your children (again and again) that the divorce is not their fault. Let your children know that they did absolutely nothing that led to the decision you and your spouse made to separate. Remind your kids that despite any times they have misbehaved, or despite arguments that you have had together, they did not influence your decision to split-up. Tell them that you and your spouse made the decision solely based on matters between the two of you and nothing else.
- Let your children know that they can love both parents, and that both parents still, and always will, love and support them. Explain to your children that it is perfectly okay and normal for them to still love both parents the same. Let them know that neither of their parents want them to take sides, or love them differently, even though their love for each other has changed. Remind your young children that both of their parents will ALWAYS love them, no matter what is happening.
- Let your children know that it is OKAY for them to feel (angry, sad, scared, confused, excited…anything!) Explicitly allow your children to feel any emotion they experience during this time. Normalize their feelings, and let them know that it is acceptable for them to feel a variety of emotions—even all at one time. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ feelings that children (or you) can experience during this time of change and uncertainty. Acknowledge what your children are feeling, and let them know that it is OKAY.
- Remind them that they are still the same great kid. There is no maximum to the amount of times that you can praise your children when they behave appropriately. Encourage your children by reminding them that they are still great, no matter what is happening between you and your spouse. This is reinforcing for them, as they may be questioning their self worth during this time. When your child has a success like hitting the ball in baseball, swimming at camp, or making an art project—MAKE A BIG DEAL!
Follow these steps to help your young one deal with divorce to help them and show them how much you care. Often , it is helpful for young children dealing with divorce to talk with a counselor or other trained professional as an added outlet for them to express their emotions.
For more information, click here to watch a pediatric TV episode on how to explain divorce to your children. Additionally, North Shore Pediatric Therapy has great social workers who can help. Please contact us at 877-486-4140 for more information.