Helping Your Child Cope With Divorce

One day, while working as a school guidance counselor, a little boy came into my office and said, “My parents are getting divorced and it’s all my fault!”

“That just can’t be true, I told the boy. There are only three reasons why people get divorced: They can’t trust each other; they can’t talk to each other; or they just don’t respect each other.” I grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote “Why People Get Divorced” at the top, and then wrote down the three reasons. “Look, I said to the boy. Your name isn’t on this list. There is no way this is your fault.”

The boy studied the list for a few minutes and then said, “Well, it has to be a trust thing then because my mom’s a ho!”

Shocked and overwhelmed by the amount and depth of information that I had just been given, I did my best to help the boy make sense out of his situation, and relinquish his guilt.

When a couple decides to get a divorce, often times the kids involved pay a hefty price. Successfully working through a divorce is a team effort. It’s not always easy, but it can be done. Below are some tips to help your child cope:

• Discuss the “Three C’s” of divorce:

You didn’t CAUSE it.
You can’t CONTROL it.
You have to learn to COPE with it.

• Present your child with a concrete explanation of why people get divorced:

They can’t trust each other.
They can’t talk to each other.
They don’t have respect for one another.

Explain that sometimes the divorce can be caused by a combination of the three reasons. This concrete explanation technique can help your child realize that he/she is not the cause of the divorce.

• Stay involved in your child’s life in every positive way possible. When divorce happens, everything changes. The demands placed on parents can at times become insurmountable. Do your best to make the time you do spend with your child quality time. Avoid becoming too self-consumed with your own needs, wants and issues.

• Use direct communication with your ex-spouse whenever possible. Try to avoid turning your child into the family messenger or the family spy. Modeling good communication skills under difficult conditions will teach your child how to deal with adversity and develop perseverance. If you allow your child to speak for you, he/she may start to manipulate your words and the words of your ex to gain a sense of control in the divorce. If you do your own talking, you eliminate this inappropriate control.

• Do not say mean things about your ex-spouse in front of your child. When you criticize your ex, you are criticizing half of your child.

• Work hard to be civil to one another when your child is present. Try to put your own animosities aside.

• Do not allow your child to use the divorce as an excuse for making poor choices (i.e. don’t let the divorce become an enabler.)

• Be supportive of the time your child spends with your ex-spouse; keep in mind it is you getting divorced…not your child.

• Keep your child’s teacher, school counselor, and child care provider informed. They are all part of your child’s team and good communication is key.

Divorce can be very difficult for everyone involved. If you can model effective communication skills, offer genuine support, prevent your divorce from enabling yourself and others, and show empathetic understanding, your child will have a much better chance of coping with the divorce successfully.

About the Author...
Julia Cook
Julia Cook is an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert.
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