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Health Information For Parents
What’s the best way to help your family get through a divorce? Every situation — and every family — is different. But these suggestions can make the process less painful for kids, teens, and families.
It’s important for divorcing — and already divorced — parents to sit down with their kids and encourage them to say what they’re thinking and feeling. But keep this separate from your own feelings. Assure your kids that their feelings are important, valid, and normal. Let them know that you can handle a conversation about even difficult or painful feelings.
During these conversations, avoid problem solving and trying to change the way a child feels. Instead focus on listening and thanking kids for their honesty. Most often, kids feel a loss of family and may blame you or the other parent — or both — for what’s going on in their lives. So, you’ll need to be ready to answer questions your kids might raise or to address their concerns.
Make talking about the divorce and how it’s affecting your kids an ongoing process. As they get older and become more mature, kids might have questions or concerns that they hadn’t thought of earlier. Even if it seems like you’ve gone over the same topics before, keep the dialogue open. If possible, sit down with the other parent and plan how you’re going to talk about what’s going on.
If you feel like you may get too upset, ask someone else (a relative, maybe) to talk to your kids. It’s OK and healthy for kids to see their parents feel sad or upset, but getting very emotional can make them feel responsible for their parents’ feelings.
If your children do see you struggle with a difficult emotion, model healthy coping as much as possible. Try to:
It’s natural for kids to have many emotions about a divorce. They might feel guilty and imagine that they “caused” the problem. This is particularly true if kids overheard their parents arguing about them. Kids and teens may feel angry or frightened, or worried about their future. If they voice these emotions, reassure them that this was not the case while reminding them that it’s a normal feeling.
Although kids may struggle with a divorce for quite a while, the real impact is usually felt over about a 2- to 3-year period. During this time, some can voice their feelings. But, depending on their age and development, other kids just won’t have the words. They may instead act out or be depressed. For school-age kids, this might mean their grades drop or they lose interest in activities. For younger children, these feelings are often expressed during play too. Be aware of a “sleeper effect” with young children: they might take big changes in stride at first, but disruptive behaviors or challenging emotions can come up years later. Communicating openly with kids and modeling healthy coping, even if they seem OK with the big changes, can reduce trouble down the road.
It may be tempting to tell a child not to feel a certain way, but kids (and adults, for that matter) have a right to their feelings. And if you try to force a “happy face,” your kids may be less likely to share their true feelings with you.
Group programs for kids of divorce run by schools or faith-based organizations are an excellent resource for kids and families who need some help to get through these early stages.
This is one of the hardest things to do. But it’s important never to say bad things about your ex in front of your kids, or within earshot. Kids pick up on these things. Research shows that the single biggest factor in long-term adjustment for kids of divorce is the level of parental conflict they see. It puts kids in a tough spot if they have to take sides or listen to negative things said about one of their parents.
It’s just as important to acknowledge real events. If, for example, one spouse moves out or abandons the family, acknowledge what has happened. It isn’t your responsibility to explain your ex’s behavior. But if your kids ask you questions, it’s important to answer as neutrally and as truthfully as possible.
Even though it is tempting, don’t use your kids as messengers. There are plenty of other ways to communicate with your ex-partner. Also, resist questioning your child about what’s happening in the other household. Kids resent it when they feel that they’re being asked to “spy” on the other parent. Wherever possible, communicate directly with the other parent about things like scheduling, visitation, health issues, or school problems.
New relationships, blended families, and remarriages are among the hardest parts of the divorce process. A new, blended family can add more stress for a while, and lead to another period of adjustment. Keep lines of communication open, allow one-on-one time for parents and kids, and watch for signs of stress to help prevent problems.
Support from friends, relatives, church and religious groups, and organizations such as Parents Without Partners can help parents and their kids adjust to separation and divorce. Kids can meet others who’ve developed successful relationships with separated parents and can confide in each other. Getting support can help parents find solutions to all kinds of practical and emotional challenges.
Whenever possible, kids should be encouraged to have as positive an outlook on both parents as they can. Even under the best of circumstances, separation and divorce can be painful and disappointing for kids.
Parents also need to remember to take care of themselves. Reduce stress by finding supportive friends and asking for help when you need it. Try to keep some old family traditions while building new memories to share. Showing your kids how to take good care of mind and body during hard times can help them become more resilient in their own lives.
Remember that honesty, sensitivity, self-control, and time itself will help the healing process.
By minimizing the stress a divorce creates, being patient as everyone adjusts to the new situation, and responding openly and honestly to your kids’ concerns, you can help them through this difficult time.
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Being a kid doesn’t always mean being carefree – even the youngest tots worry. Find out what stresses kids out and how to help them cope.
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Millions of kids live with just one parent. Are you one of them? Find out more in this article for kids.
Do you have a stepmom or stepdad? Lots of kids do. Find out more in this article for kids.
It isn’t easy to start over. Read this article to learn some ways to cope with the stress of moving.
Moving isn’t easy for anyone. Get some advice in this article for kids.
If you’re dealing with your parents’ divorce, it may seem hard, but it is possible to cope and have a good family life in spite of the changes divorce can bring.
Divorce is tough for everyone involved, including kids. Find out more in this article.
It’s normal for parents to disagree and argue sometimes. But when parents fight, it can make kids feel upset. The good news is that usually families can work together to solve problems.
It’s normal for family members to disagree once in a while. Learn how keep your cool during an argument.
How can you get along better with your parents and have more fun together? Follow these five steps.
Because everyone’s situation is different, there are no easy answers to accepting a stepparent. But here are some ideas to help you deal.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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