By: Amy Beschta, M.S., L.P.C., Penfield Children’s Center
For many children of divorcing parents, the change can bring forward confusion and worry about the unknown. Some of the questions that children may have during this time might be:
- Who will I live with?
- Where will I live?
- When will I see mom?
- When will I see dad?
- Who will bring me to school?
- Why is this happening?
- Did I do something to make this happen?
For younger children who cannot ask questions as easily as older children or at all, parents can assume that they will still be feeling the change, even if they cannot fully understand it. For all children, a daily play or activity time can be a way to reassure them while keeping your relationship strong.
To decrease your child’s anxiety, it’s important to not only encourage questions, but answer them as honestly as possible, without giving your child information they do not need to know, or speaking negatively about the other parent. It’s important to let your child know that he did nothing to cause the separation and give him as much information as possible about what his schedule and routine will look like once his parents are living apart. Even after answering your child’s questions about who will take him to school and who will pick him up, he may need reminders for reassurance several times, especially at first.
During any stressful adjustment, children are often craving consistency and predictability wherever and whenever possible. For both younger and older children, keeping their routine consistent will help give them a feeling of security. If custody is shared, parents should try to keep their routines consistent with each other when the child is with them. It may be helpful to give your child his own calendar with days marked when he is going to see the other parent. It’s also important to let your child know what he can do if he misses the other parent, such as “You can call mom anytime. I can help you; just let me know if you want to talk to her.” It may also be helpful to give your child pictures of the other parent or a comfort item that he can take with him to each parent’s home.
During any difficult transition, focusing on your relationship with your child is especially important. Attending counseling with your child can be another way to keep your relationship strong and brainstorm ways to make the change easier. If you believe counseling may help, or believe your child is showing signs of stress, such as changes in mood, behavior, and other social relationships, seeking services in your community is a positive step.
Make sure to pay close attention to your child’s emotions during this time. It is normal for your child to express anger, resentment and/or sadness. Sometimes children also have a difficult time expressing these emotions and might blame one parent over the other, even if neither parent is to blame for the separation. If you can sit together with your partner and child in a peaceful way, it can be helpful to talk about the divorce as a united family, assuring him that you are both making this decision together so that everyone can be happy. It’s also important to reinforce that you both love him as much as you did before you made the decision to divorce and that your love for him will never fade, even if you and your partner live separately.
How have you helped your little one cope through a separation or divorce?