One of the more concerning questions I am asked about is how to help a child deal with a divorce or separation. Rather than take sides on this question, let me provide some information from the American Academy of Pediatrics that may help families cope with divorce.
Divorce affects more than 1 million children each year.
No matter what you do, most children will still experience anger, confusion and pain with this life change. The best thing to do is be honest and tell the truth, making sure that you emphasize over and over again that a divorce has nothing to do with your children or how they behaved. Even when you do this, your children will still think they did something wrong. You need to keep reinforcing the fact that this is not true.
It is best if both of you can explain the separation together while emphasizing that you love your children and will continue to spend time with them. Talk openly about painful feelings. Books and support groups can help.
Try to remain positive about aspects of the other parent in front of your children.
Don’t unload negative feelings on them or ask a child to take sides. Accept your child’s love for the other parent, unless of course that parent has been abusive to your children.
Maintain the normal rules, especially if your children will be spending time in more than one home. Don’t neglect rituals, routines, and/or limit setting.
And please constantly reinforce your love for them. Your children will need to hear “I love you” even more often during and after a divorce.
If you sense your children are overly disturbed, please consider some form of counseling to help them and you. Hopefully tips like these will allow a separated or divorced family to work together and not split their differences when it comes to helping a child deal with a separation or divorce.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.