Helping Your Child Cope with Divorce

Divorce can be emotionally challenging for most spouses, but when you add children to the mix, the stress just went up to a whole other notch. As a divorcing parent, not only do you need to manage your own emotions, but you’ll be dealing with your child’s emotions as well. And if you have several children, the emotions are magnified.

While infants and toddlers may seem the ideal age for parents to go through a divorce, this isn’t always true. For example, let’s say a mother and father split just before the child’s birth. The baby is breastfeeding and will not take a bottle, so this delays overnight visits for the father for some time. In this scenario, the father may be very concerned that he will not get the chance to “bond” with his child.

Divorce & the Effect on Youngsters

Suppose the child is one or two-years-old and has been cared for by his mother since birth, while his father worked all day to support the family and allow the mother to be a stay-at-home mom – quite an accomplishment considering the cost of living in Southern California.

Suddenly, the father moves out of the home and he’s asking for overnight visits with his toddler. But the toddler, who is used to his mother putting him to bed each night while his dad traveled for work, throws a fit and screams uncontrollably every time his father tries to put him to bed. The father only sleeps for an hour and drags himself into work the following day, exhausted.

What we’re trying to say is that for some families, just because a child is an infant or a toddler, it doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges for the couple. But the good news is that there are strategies that can certainly help divorcing parents, regardless if their child is three months, three-years-old, or sixteen-years-old.

For Parents of Infants

If you have a newborn, overnight visits may need to be delayed initially until the child is on a bottle. If this happens, it can help if the father visits regularly. If the mother is breastfeeding and the child refuses a bottle, the father can still arrange visits while the mother is within arm’s reach for feeding.

With newborns, as time goes by overnight visits can be introduced and though it may not feel like it at first, time will fly. The key is to schedule frequent visits with the father until he can ask for more parenting time.

If these visits are not arranged, there can be bonding challenges and it can be more difficult to leave the child with the father alone. Insufficient father-child bonding can be like leaving the child with a stranger when the child does finally spend more time with Dad, so frequent visits from the beginning can minimize challenges.

For Parents of Preschoolers

Every family’s situation is different. Some preschoolers are cared for by nannies all day while Mom and Dad work full-time. Others are cared for by a daycare or a stay-at-home mother or father. Generally, if the child is accustomed to being watched all day by Grandma, a nanny, or a daycare provider, the divorce may not affect the child very much, if at all.

On the other hand, if the child is cared for by a stay-at-home mom or dad, how the child is impacted by the divorce may depend on two factors: 1) if the stay-at-home parent has to go back to work, and 2) if the stay-at-home parent continues caring for the child full-time.

In the latter example, the preschooler may handle the divorce well because for them, not much is changing. On the other hand, if the parent has to go back to work, the child will most likely be placed in daycare or a nanny will be hired.

If your child is preschool age:

  • If your was being cared for by a parent and now they have to go to daycare or have a nanny, understand that while this is a transition, it should be temporary and your child should adapt within a month or so. The best thing you can do is thoroughly research your childcare options, and make your selection carefully. Try to find a childcare provider who will take excellent care of your son or daughter.
  • If you receive joint physical custody, try to keep things as consistent as possible at both households. This means talk to your former spouse and arrange it so you have the same meal, bath and bedtimes, and the same rules. Also, don’t stop your child from bringing their favorite toys, books, and blankets to both homes as these items can offer your child comfort when transferring between households.

For Parents of Elementary-Age Children

If your child is in elementary school, it’s very important to reassure him or her that the divorce is not their fault. Refrain from talking bad about your child’s other parent within hearing distance, and shower your child with love.

We also recommend spending lots of quality time with your child, keeping rules and consequences consistent at both households, and here’s a big one – getting along with your former spouse. If you and your former spouse can treat each other with kindness and respect, it can make all the difference in how your child handles the divorce.

For Parents of Teenagers

Teenagers handle parents’ divorces differently. Your teenager could be thrilled about your divorce, or they can be very upset about it. Either way, it’s important to let your teen know how much you love him or her. If you and your former spouse can get along and build a strong co-parenting relationship, this is fantastic.

If you can build each other up and show a united front, it will benefit your teen by providing stability during a very uncertain time in their life. Also, if you plan to date, be sensitive to your teen’s feelings. Take dating slow and introduce a new partner gradually, after you have truly gotten to know them and they have proven to be trustworthy.