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Divorce: Helping Your Children Transition


Approximately half of all marriages end in div​orce. Considering this statistic, countless children are impacted when their pa​rents divorce. Some areas of children’s lives that are affected include where they live, what school they attend, what types of activities they can participate in and their contact with friends and family members. Despite these changes, most children whose parents divorce are well-adjusted, and it helps when children can continue to have regular time with both parents.​

This is often a difficult time for parents and children alike. But there are steps parents can take to minimize the impact of their divorce. Here are some tips for how you can help your children, and yourself, through this transition:

  • Families and Divorce

    ​Quite regularly families come in and have concerns about either they're planning a divorce or have already divorced, and they're looking for ways they can help their children through the process.

    When parents make the decision to separate I ask them to sit down as a family and talk to the kids about that decision, and explain it to them in whatever terms are appropriate.  Why it happened and their perception of why it happened.   I think its important kids know it's not their fault, that it's a parent decision that was made. 

    I think it's important that parents share that with the child.  I also try to alleviate any responsibility that they might be taking for what has happened, because often time's kids often feel like they might've done something that's caused their parents to separate or divorce. 

    One thing I ask them to focus on is their communication, and I ask them specifically to communicate with each other and so often times I think kids are caught in between the parent's homes and I ask them to try to communicate directly with each other so the kids aren't the messengers.

    And I also try to ask the parents to limit the conflict between them in the presence of the children.  The other thing I ask parents to do is try to really limit the changes that happen in the kids'  lives,  so often times a move is required and so I ask parents try to limit the changes as much as possible, so if the children can continue going to their schools that's ideal so they can continue their friendships.  If they can remain involved in their activities, that's also ideal.  So we just want to limit the changes that happen both when the parents separate and also when they might change residences. 

    Set up a way of communicating directly with each other, so maybe that's once a week they plan on a phone call where they can talk about the schedule for their children for the upcoming week.  I also ask parents to have some communication when they are dropping the children off back and forth between their parent's homes.  I think things come up and things change from the plan and it's important that parents both know the schedules. 

    I think parents know their kids best and so what I ask them to watch for is just changes in their children.  So they might notice changes in their sleeping or they might notice changes in their school performance.  Or they might notice changes in how often they are socializing or what they're doing with their friends.

    Often time's parents will come in and notice that there are changes in their child's temper.  So they might have more temper outbursts.  When they're noticing just big differences from what their child was like before to what their child is like now , then I think it's time to get some professional assistance.

  • Rely on friends and family for the support you’ll need.
  • Avoid dating for several months following the separation to give you and your children time to adapt to the changes.
  • Avoid arguing with or speaking negatively about the other parent in front of your children. Schedule times to talk when the children aren’t present, and don’t criticize the other parent.
  • Communicate with each other to make necessary plans and arrangements; this isn’t a child’s responsibility.
  • Let your children be children. Don’t place adult responsibilities on them or confide in them as though they are adults.
  • Financially support your children to maintain their standard of living.
  • Have consistent rules and routines for your children in your home.
  • Consider mediation, which involves parents working with a neutral third-party to assist with negotiations. Mediation is associated with better outcomes for children and families, when compared to court involvement.

There are a number of supports available to help you and your children through these changes. A good parenting resource on this topic is Dr. Robert Emery’s book, The Truth about Children and Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions So You and Your Children Can Thrive. Boys Town has trained counselors who are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to offer support. If you would like assistance, call 1-800-448-3000. If you notice drastic changes in your child, consider contacting his or her school counselor or asking your child’s physician for a referral to a mental health professional.​

Family and Parenting Behavioral Health