Kids are resilient, and able to overcome a parental separation or divorce. But it’s a big transition. How can you support your child through these changes? 

Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Amy Adolfo Signore, PhD, MPH, shares advice.

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How to Tell Your Child About Your Divorce or Separation

Children take cues from their parents. If you remain calm, your child is more likely to remain calm, too.

  • Give your child honest, age-appropriate information. Make sure your plans for divorce or separation are definite before announcing anything to your child. When you do share the news, be clear that the relationship is over.
  • Keep it simple. Children do not need to know the details of the break-up.
  • Reassure your child that both parents love them, and that the separation is not their fault.
  • Encourage your child to share their feelings. All feelings are okay. It’s normal to feel sad, worried, angry, confused, guilty or even relieved. Focus on simply listening to your child as they express their thoughts and feelings. You don’t need to intervene – just be present for them.

How to Support Your Child Through Their Adjustment Period

While your child is getting used to the idea of your divorce or separation, it’s normal for them to have more tantrums, anxiety, trouble sleeping or difficulty at school. Be patient as they work through this adjustment period. Here are a few ways to make it easier for them.

  • Keep your child up-to-date on anything that affects them. To help reduce your child’s anxiety about the transition, share key facts as soon as you know them in words that they can understand. That includes the finalization of a divorce, your planned parenting schedule, and any anticipated changes to their routine.
  • If your child is worried about being apart from you or their other parent, ease them into it. Try planning short, frequent separations from each parent.
  • Focus on consistent routines across both parents’ homes. For example, if your child previously had a successful bedtime routine, attempt to continue that routine (as exactly as possible) in both homes. The same holds true for chores, behavioral expectations and consequences

> Related: Creating Routines to Help Your Child Cope With Uncertainty

How to Build a Successful Co-Parenting Relationship

The most important thing you and your ex can do for your child is find ways to get along and be on the same page about parenting decisions. As co-parents, work on constructive, open communication, and creating as much consistency for your child as possible.

  • Don’t argue in front of your child. The more conflict your child witnesses, the more they’ll be at risk to struggle emotionally.
  • Remain neutral when discussing one another in front of your child. Don’t make any rude or negative comments about your ex in front of your child – or on social media, where your child might see or hear about it. Minimize your child’s exposure to conflicts about custody, their visitation schedule, and other details of the separation.
  • Make decisions as co-parents, and inform your child. Don’t make your child the messenger, or put them in the position of deciding things like your parenting schedule.
  • Work together to maintain the same routines and expectations in both homes. The more routine your child has, no matter which home they’re in, the better. This includes everything from homework to screen time to chores. Set the same limits for inappropriate behavior, including tantrums and noncompliance, as well as consequences. And make sure both households consistently follow them.

> Related: 8 Mental Health Tips for Parents

Sad child, parents arguing in the background

How to Stay Connected With Your Child

With all of the changes your child is experiencing, it’s important for them to be able to count on one-on-one time with you. Don’t worry if your time is limited: This is about quality, not quantity.

Every day you’re with your child, set aside at least 10 to 15 minutes for individual, devoted time together.

  • Put your child in charge. Encourage them to choose and direct the activity that you’ll do together during this special time.
  • Focus on everyday activities. This time should not involve spending money or traveling anywhere. Instead, ask your child to choose an activity that they already enjoy at home, like playing with a favorite toy, reading, drawing, etc.
  • Make a commitment. Keep your promise for this one-on-one time no matter what. For instance, this is one activity that you shouldn’t take away (or threaten to take away) even if your child is struggling with disruptive behavior.

> Related: How to Check On Your Child’s Mental Health

When to Find Outside Support

If you or your child could use extra support, reach out to your doctor or insurance provider to ask about therapy.

A therapist can work with the whole family, or individual members. They can help your child express their emotions and adjust to new routines. They can help you and your child’s other parent come up with strategies to manage this time of transition.

They can also support your mental health as a parent. It’s important to take care of yourself – for your own well-being, and to role model healthy coping for your child.