Practical Tips for Parenting Children of All Ages Through Divorce

Whether you are going through a divorce, or you know someone who is, this information can help you understand what children of divorce need from their parents and other adults in their lives.   You can either use this information yourself, or share it with those who are seeking tips for helping their children through this transition.  Adolescence is already a tumultuous time. It is a time when your children are trying to understand themselves as they experience major growth in all areas of their lives: physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally, and morally. And, parenting teens is already a challenging task. It is a task that requires insight and understanding. It challenges us to put our own “stuff” aside and focus on what is best for the healthy development of our child. Divorce can take these “normal” challenges to a whole new level

Being present to what your child needs in the face of your own heartbreak, grief and/or anger is easier said then done. Regardless of divorce, life keeps parents busy with things like family, work, school, relationships, and health and well-being. Sometimes in the midst of all this, parents are faced with other major life transitions like moving to a new home or switching jobs.  In fact, it is common for divorce to spark multiple transitions as parents attempt to reinvent themselves and reestablish their life.

Raising teens through divorce is one of my main areas of interest and research, specifically having a healthy parent-child relationship after divorce.  This requires understand the impact of divorce and your role in helping them cope with divorce at different ages. With the help of one of my students, Kimberly Baker, the following information is intended to give you information about (1) What they know, (2) How they feel, and (3) What you can do. While this is a blog on teens, the following chart includes infants, toddlers, and early childhood as well.

What They Understand

How They Feel

What You can Do About It

Preteens & Adolescents

Teens understand what divorce means and accept it as final. The older they are, the more they recognize that both parents played a role in the marriage and in the divorce. They may:- Feel abandoned,

– Withdrawal from their friends,

– Act in uncharacteristic ways,

– Challenge their beliefs about love, marriage, and family,

– Feel like they had to grow up too fast. (For example they may take on adult responsibilities or worry about things like money).

– Maintain open lines of communication.- Stay involved in their lives – know their friends, interests, and hobbies.

– Be engaged in their schooling.

– Honor or create family rituals and routines (Sunday dinner, weekend movie night, or cooking together).

– Teach contribution and responsibility through age appropriate chores.

– Do NOT use your teen as a confidant. Talk to other adults instead.

– Be careful introducing new partners to your teen. Make sure to consider their feelings and avoid surprises.

 

Preschool & Early Childhood

They recognize that their family has changed and that one parent no longer lives in the home. The older they get, the more they can accept that their parents will not get back together. They may:- Blame themselves,

– Worry about the changes they are experiencing in day-to-day life,

– Be sad or even have nightmares,

– Be aggressive toward the parent they blame.

– Hold hopes that their parents will get back together.

 

– Repeatedly tell them that they are NOT responsible for the divorce.- Reassure them that their needs will be met, regardless of which parent is present.

– Talk about and be accepting of ALL thoughts and feelings.

– Plan time for children to be with both parents if possible. Support the child’s ongoing relationship with the other parent.

– Read books together about children and divorce.

– Gently remind children that divorce is final.

 

Toddlers

Toddlers recognize that one parent is no longer at home. They may express empathy toward others, such as a parent who is feeling sad. They may:- Have difficulty separating from parents,

– Express anger toward a parent(s),

– Lose some skills (like toilet training),

– Revert to old behaviors (like thumb sucking),

– Experience problems with naptime or daily routines,

– Have nightmares.

– Spend more time with children during times of separation (For example: spend an extra ten minutes at daycare).- Physically and verbally reassure them of your love.

– Be understanding of your child’s distress. Recognize that old behaviors (like thumb sucking) may reappear for a short period of time, but will go away again with love and support.

– Talk with other important adults and caregivers about how they can best support your child.

Infants

Infants notice changes in their parent’s energy. Older infants realize one parent no longer lives in the home. They may:- Be more irritable,- Cry or fuss more often,

– Experience changes in sleep patterns,

– Experience changes in other daily routines (naps, eating, etc.).

– Keep the infants schedule as normal as possible.- Use physical and verbal affection to reassure your infant of your continued presence.

– Keep your infant’s favorite toys, blanket, and stuffed animals close by for comfort.

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

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