How to Protect Your Children From Harm During Divorce Proceedings

Divorce is one of the most painful processes that anyone can endure. Even if both spouses are eager to be separated, the toll divorce takes on emotions, energy, money, and time leaves everyone feeling completely drained. If children are part of the equation, it just makes the situation even worse.

Children take divorces particularly hard because they don’t understand it. They’re often not developed enough to comprehend why mommy and daddy can’t get along. If a child’s emotional needs aren’t cared for during a divorce, it can cause serious damage to their overall development. If you can use a divorce mediation program from a family law mediation specialist for your divorce negotiations, it would be better for everyone especially your kids.

Both of you may be ready to call it quits but you absolutely cannot discount your children’s feelings during this period. Read ahead to discover some effective ways you can help make your divorce as painless for your children as possible. It is also important to have an experienced divorce lawyer working on the legalities so you can focus on your kids.

Break The News Soon and Be Honest

Children are far more perceptive than adults give them credit for. A 2010 study published in Psychological Science showed that children can instinctively detect changes in behavior based on emotional cues. Your children may not be old enough to fully understand your divorce but they will know that something is wrong. That’s why it’s important that you tell your kids about your divorce as soon as possible.

How to To Tell Your Children About Your Divorce

First of all, you need to be honest with your children. Don’t say things like, “Daddy/Mommy is going on a trip,” or “Daddy/Mommy is going away for a little while.” Children understand that those terms indicate a limited period of time. When a year has gone by, and you two are still living apart, children will want to know why their other parent hasn’t come back. Instead, tell them honestly, “Mommy and daddy won’t be living together anymore.”

There are some other helpful options you have to make the news easier to bear:

  • If you can be civil with each other, both parents should tell their children together. This will help show them that even though you’re separating, you can still work together to raise them.
  • The younger they are, the fewer the details you have to share. If you have older children, especially teenagers, be prepared to answer questions
  • Avoid giving specific reasons for the divorce. The honest reason might be, “Mom and dad hate each other’s guts.” That’s exactly what your children don’t need to hear right now.
  • Stay calm when you tell your children. Again, they’ll be able to pick up your emotional signals. If you’re seething with anger while you’re talking but saying, “Everything’s just fine,” they’ll know you’re lying.

Set Clear Expectations for the Future

No matter the age of your children, they’re going to be curious about what your divorce means for their future. It’s critical that you address both how the divorce is going to play out and how your children’s lifestyle is going to change. Routine and predictability are going to become very important to your children very soon.

Specific Points to Address

When you outline how things are going to go from here on out, make sure you address the following points with your children:

  • When you will both stop living together
  • Who the children are going to live with and where
  • If they’ll need to change schools
  • If they’ll still get to see their friends
  • If there will be any changes to their extracurricular activities
  • How holidays and birthdays will work
  • How visitation is going to work

Help Your Children Process Their Emotions

No matter how resolute your kids seem to be, your divorce is going to have a profound impact on them emotionally. For some children, you’ll see a marked change in behavior. This might mean that your child becomes more withdrawn, disobedient, violent, or depressed. Others will try to keep their emotions contained and you may not see a difference on the surface. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering too. There are a few things you can do to help them cope.

Let Them Know It’s Not Their Fault

No matter how irrational it seems, many children will immediately blame themselves for their parents’ problems. They’ll start to think that they must be a terrible child and you’re divorcing because you don’t want to deal with them anymore. You children need to understand that, even though this affects them too, they are not to blame. Just as important, they need to understand that mom and dad still love them.

Help Kids Express Their Emotions

The problem with extreme emotions in young children is that they don’t know how to process them in a healthy way. As a parent, you can help them both express what they’re feeling and offer some relief. If your child is acting out, calmly ask them, “Why are you acting this way? What is making you feel so angry?” Your divorce might be at the heart of their feelings, but other factors will be contributing to. Reinforce with your children that it’s okay to feel the way they do.

Show Support for Their Needs

Each child will need something different to help them feel better. For some, just talking about their emotions with you will bring relief. For others, you may need to do something more specific. They may need a trip to the playground, a visit to the ice cream store, or some other fun activity to feel better. Be cautious, though, that you don’t try to sideline their feelings with distractions indefinitely. Sooner or later, your child has to come to terms with your divorce. You have to help them reach that point, no matter how painful it is.

Put them in the Most Stable Environment Possible

As I mentioned above, consistency is going to be one of the most important comforts your children can have during and after your divorce. Another important aspect is safety. No matter which parent the children live with, it’s important that they have a safe, predictable, supportive environment to help them heal.

Obviously, if you’re divorcing because you’re fleeing an abusive relationship, you need to remove your children from the home immediately. You also need to take action to protect them from further abuse.

Answering the Hard Questions

Your first instinct is probably going to be to keep your children with you as much as you can. For many parents, the most difficult reality they have to face is that their children might be better off living with their ex. When you’re trying to determine your kids’ living situation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will living with me mean they have to move?
  • Is the home I’m moving to safe and big enough for them?
  • Is my work situation going to impact my ability to care for them?
  • Do I have the funds to support caring for them all on my own?

Once you have a clear answer to these questions, you’ll be in a better position to honestly answer which parent can best support your children’s needs. If you determine that they’ll be better off with your ex, you need to be prepared to let them go, no matter how painful it is.