Helping children cope with divorce

Contrary to popular belief, there are studies showing that divorce is not always damaging to children. This is particularly true when couples take the time to communicate with their children about the situation, including details of the divorce itself — delivered in an age-appropriate manner — and fully explaining any issues around living arrangements and child custody.

Clinical research tends to buck another deeply held misconception that children in families of divorced parents are more prone to psychological issues than children whose families have remained intact. Studies show this simply is not true.

Certainly, there are psychological impacts of divorce on children, primarily centering on memories and feelings of distress and sadness. Until children can fully appreciate the situation and the reasoning for the divorce, they are prone to make their own assumptions and harbor feelings of inadequacy and depression.

Researchers studied college students and children of the same age who were not in college but who had all gone through the divorce of their parents a decade earlier. In both sets, the children of divorce are still in touch with the feelings from the experience. Many reported a loss of contact or intimacy of relationships, particularly with the father or patriarch of the family.

Recently, Dr. Joseph Nowinski shared some helpful advice for helping children cope with divorce in his Huffington Post column, and we would like to share some of his insights with our readers. Dr. Nowinski has found that communication is the best tool to help children understand that divorce is about the adults in the relationship and not about the children who are affected.

Suggestions on communicating with children in a divorce

  • Let them know that divorce is on the horizon: When children are aware of the upcoming event they are better prepared to handle the impact and ask questions. Nobody likes to be surprised, particularly with emotionally stressful news.
  • Tell the children exactly what it will mean to them: They will want to know how it will affect their living situation. Details of the change must be communicated.
  • Consider the needs of the children: Children in high stress situations like divorce want to have a say in the logistics of the new living arrangements and any moves that will be necessary. Taking the children’s wishes into consideration can lessen the emotional impact and lower the potential for trauma.

Source: Huffington Post, “Helping Children Survive Divorce: Talking to Children About Divorce,” Joseph Nowinski, Nov. 14, 2011