Protect Your Kids During Divorce

Children's needs during separation are very different from their parents. Let your message to your children be that you care so much about them that you will keep them separate, and safe, from any conflict.

Talk with your children. Explain what is happening. Tell them in simple, plain language what your separation/divorce means to them and their lives. Encourage your children to ask questions. In almost 25 percent of divorce cases, parents never say anything to their children, leaving them confused, anxious, upset and lonely. When parents do not explain what is happening, children find it much harder to cope.

Keep your conflict away from the children. Create a protective barrier for the children by saving arguments and discussions for when they are not around. Don't leave out court papers or agreements where children will see them. Do not talk on the phone with friends, your attorney or your ex when the children can hear you. (Even when they are in the next room they might hear you.) Children are not equipped to understand adult matters. When they are put in the middle and used as messengers, sounding boards or spies, they often become depressed and angry, and can develop behavioral problems.

Both parents should remain actively involved. Develop a child-centered parenting plan that allows a continuing, significant and meaningful relationship with both parents. In cases where good father-child, mother-child relationships exist, kids grow into adolescence and young adulthood as well-adjusted as children from intact families. High levels of academic functioning as well as better adjustment overall is achieved when both parents are actively involved in normal parenting activities such as school, play, appropriate discipline, affectionate exchanges and supportive communication.

Deal with your anger appropriately. When you are going through a separation and are hurting, you can be forgiven for momentarily "losing it" in anger, grief or pain in front of your children. Remember, your own mental health has an impact on your children. If feelings of depression, anxiety or anger continue to overwhelm you, seek help. Even a few sessions of therapy can be very helpful.

Be a good parent. Even with the disruption caused by separation/divorce, both parents need to continue to be good parents. Provide appropriate discipline, monitor your children, maintain expectations about school and be emotionally available to your children. Competent parenting is one of the most important protective factors in terms of children's positive adjustment to separation.

Keep your children connected with those they care about. Encourage your children to stay connected to the family of your ex-spouse and to all your children's and family's important friends. If possible, use the same child care/day care providers. A stable network strengthens a child's feeling that they are not alone in this world, and is an important factor in becoming a psychologically healthy adult.

Be thoughtful about your future love life. Take time before you remarry or cohabitate again. Young children in particular form attachments to potential life partners. If new relationships break up, loss after loss can lead to depression and lack of trust in children. Don't expect older children to quickly love someone you have chosen. Their respect and affection will have to be earned.