21 Tips to Help Your Child Adjust to Divorce

  1. Settle It Privately – Do not hire an attorney until you know what you are doing. You will make it much worse for yourself and your children. Make it a goal to stay out of court. Neither of you will be happy with attorneys and judges dictating how your life will go.

  2. Learn About The Resources – Attend classes on custody and marriage dissolution. Read up on divorce (see our resource list). Learn how divorce affects children. Refrain from taking advice from friends and family who are “on your side”. Find out about mediation and collaborative divorce attorneys. Get objective feedback from a therapist who understands divorce.

  3. Monitor Your Motives – Don’t give into the desire for retaliation and revenge. Never make exaggerated or false accusations about your partner. Tell the truth. Don’t insist on getting everything you can in the settlement. Be fair. Custody and visitation are not mainly about your rights – they are about your child’s needs.

  4. Stay Involved in Your Child’s Life – Your child needs to have active and ongoing contact with you. The absence of either parent, due to a divorce or breakup, is devastating to a child. It leads to all kinds of problems for them. Stay actively involved.

  5. Focus on Your Child’s Needs – Parenting after divorce needs to be for the good of your child. You don’t have to fight with your former partner. (It takes two.) If you don’t agree to fight, most arguments won’t happen. That doesn’t mean becoming a doormat. It means your child’s needs come first. Stay focused on your child, not your anger.

  6. Help Your Child Stay Connected With Their Other Parent – Your child didn’t get divorced, you did. Don’t confuse your child’s needs with your own. Refrain from pressuring your child to agree with your feelings, desires, and opinions of their other parent. Manipulating a child to take sides is very harmful to them. Do everything you can to help your child stay regularly involved with their other parent.

  7. Preserve Continuity – Predictability, schedules, routine, and structure provide safety and security for children. Help them continue in the same school, sports, daycare, friendships, hobbies, music lessons, religious community, and other activities that they enjoyed prior to the divorce. This includes helping your child have regularly scheduled time with the other parent.

  8. Maintain Good Boundaries – Avoid arguing with your former partner in front of your children. Arguments children witness disrupt their psychological balance and well-being, and prevent them from focusing on their own needs. Protect your child by keeping them out of the middle of your conflicts. This includes not complaining about the other parent in front of them. Deal with your conflicts away from your child.

  9. Do Not Use Your Child as a Messenger – Asking children to deliver messages or spy on the other parent is unfair to them in many ways. It not only puts them in the crossfire, it places the responsibility for your dysfunctional marriage on them. Expecting your child to communicate for you is asking them to be responsible for you. Do not make your child a prisoner in your war. Take responsibility for communicating with the other parent – it’s not your child’s job.

  10. Talk to Your Child – Don’t assume your children are OK just because they don’t say anything. Children often feel overwhelmed by parental divorce and don’t know how to put their thoughts and feelings into words. Kids have many questions, needs, feelings, and insecurities about their parents splitting up. Tell them about changes that are coming. Ask them what they are afraid of. Listen to them, and respond accordingly.  

  11. Reassure Your Child – When children see their parents leave each another, they become afraid their parents will leave them too. Fears of abandonment are normal for children of divorcing parents. Reassure your child. Stay involved. Show them you care about them. Tell them of your love and commitment to them – and do it often.

  12. Keep Your Promises – Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Broken promises destroy trust. If you can’t keep a visit, attend a school event, or make a social activity, explain it to them. Don’t leave them wondering what happened. Tell your child the truth. Your child needs to be able to count on you now more than ever.

  13.  Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes – Every parent makes mistakes. Own up to your mistakes, just like you expect your child to do. Don’t excuse your behavior or blame your former partner for it. Apologize when you are wrong. Your child will respect you for taking responsibility for yourself.

  14.  Be a Parent, Not a Friend – You need adult support and friendship (that doesn’t mean another romance). Do not confide in your child about your own feelings and struggles. Get your emotional needs met elsewhere. Don’t try to make up for feeling guilty by indulging your child or failing to hold them accountable. Your child needs you to be their parent, not their friend.

  15. Take Care of Yourself – Do healthy things for yourself. Stay away from drinking too much alcohol and going to bars. Don’t stoop to having one night stands. Eat well, exercise, meditate, engage in a hobby, spend time in nature, renew your spiritual practices, read a good book, develop new friends.  

  16.  Improve Your Parenting Skills – Nobody is born knowing how to parent. There is a lot to learn about effective parenting. Polish your communication skills, encourage your child, learn better ways to structure consequences. Take a parenting course, such as those offered on this website.  

  17.  Be a Role Model – Most of what children learn is by imitation of adult behavior. If you harbor resentments and get even with your former spouse, your child will learn to do the same thing. If you show compassion and find a way to forgive your former spouse, your child will learn these things as well. Teach your child by being a good example.

  18. Avoid Repeating the Past – The past can and will repeat itself, unless you do something to change the trajectory. Actually, it can get worse. For example, children are much more likely to be abused by new partners compared to their biological parents. You need your own healing so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes. (Yes, you were part of the problem too.) If you don’t make changes, little is likely to improve in your future.   

  19. Deal with Your Loss – Divorce involves tremendous loss for everyone involved. Free your children from your hurt and anger by finding ways to help yourself heal. Find out about resources such as grief groups, divorce recovery groups, therapy, and spiritual resources to engage in the forgiveness process.  

  20. Invest in Your Future – Bringing a new partner into your child’s life too soon can be very disruptive to them. Even though it’s tempting, stay away from trying to get your emotional needs met in another romance. Romantic and sexual involvement too soon will distract you and sidetrack your own healing. Rebound relationships rarely succeed. Taking the time to heal and learn is the best investment you can make in your future.

Get Therapy If You Need it – No matter how hard you try, you may get depressed, anxious, lose hope, or be unable to make positive changes. A well trained and experienced therapist can help you deal with these problems. Don’t avoid getting help because it feels uncomfortable, you feel guilty, or are afraid you’ll be blamed. If you engage in the healing process, you will feel better over time.

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Duane Nelson

Born and raised in the Minneapolis, Duane is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has made his home in Rochester for the last 25 years. Duane has been married for 33 years to his wife, Cathy. The two met while doing music at the same church in Minneapolis. Duane and Cathy have two adult daughters, and the family love to travel and play cribbage together. Duane plays guitar and percussion, and the couple still make music together. Duane enjoys gardening, cookouts, hiking, reading, downhill skiing, and hanging out with friends. Duane holds three graduate degrees, two mental health licenses, and two major counseling certifications. He has worked professionally for 37 years in addiction treatment, mental health, clinical social work, pastoral counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Duane is widely regarded as an expert in marriage and family therapy. Following his retirement from Mayo Clinic, Duane founded Healthy Relationships Rochester. This innovative organization is based on developing the concept of Relationship Intelligence through teaching and disseminating best-practice relationship education and skill training programs in a variety of non-clinical settings.