It can be very difficult for children to weather their parents’ divorce. They may not fully understand the factors that are causing the divorce, and it may be hard for them to feel like life no longer features the kind of stability that kids crave. This reality can take a mental and emotional toll.
As a parent, you may know in your bones that it is best for you and your spouse to get a divorce. You may even know that navigating this change is going to make you a better parent. But how do you take care of your child’s mental health during this critical transition? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Reassure the child that they are not the reason for divorce
Parents are often surprised to find out that children think they caused the divorce. Parents know that the children didn’t have anything to do with it. But this is something that happens often because young children will engage in a process known as magical thinking. Children often think that they are impacting the world in a multitude of ways that they are not, and this can be distressing for them. Reassuring them that you love them and that this is not their fault can be highly beneficial.
Give them space to talk
Additionally, when you talk to your child about the divorce or any aspects of this process, give them time to talk, as well. Allow them to ask questions. Make sure they know that you’re really listening to them. Provide feedback. This may not make it easier for the child to accept what’s happening, but they can at least understand why it is occurring and feel like you were there to support them.
Cooperate with your co-parent, when possible and appropriate
Finally, it’s helpful for children when they have consistency and they understand what is expected of them. This is why it’s important to cooperate with your co-parent regarding things like schedules and discipline, whenever possible and prudent. You’ll also want to avoid saying anything to belittle your spouse or blame them for the divorce. Ideally, you’ll work to help your child see that both you and their other parent love them unconditionally unless their other parent is unfit. In that scenario, as you and your child move together alone, working with a counselor to navigate the emotional challenges of that situation can be helpful.
As you move forward, be sure you know what legal steps will be required of you so that you can start to determine how you’ll support your child in unique ways as each unfolds.