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Divorce: Helping Children Cope

By Caren Caty, Ph.D.

Studies on marriage and divorce in the United States report 41%–50% of first marriages end in divorce. While separation and divorce are common, they are not “normal” experiences for anyone, especially for children. In most cases children do not want their parents to divorce. The sense of belonging to a family is very important for young children. Not only do children derive feelings of safety and security from the family unit, there are many daily habits and ways of life they have become accustomed to and don’t want changed. Young children often respond to the news of divorce with great sadness and fear of what the future will hold. While these emotional wounds can heal over time, mourning the loss of an intact family and end to a way of life can leave a young person struggling with emotions such as sadness, anger, and guilt, which have been known to lead to stomachaches, headaches, eating and sleeping disorders, depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior, social and academic dysfunction, and other stress-related disorders.

While many mental health professionals believe that divorce can be healthier to child development than a high conflict marriage, a dissolving marriage can be a sad time for everyone in the family. Typically children realize there are difficulties in the relationship between their parents long before the decision to divorce occurs. The best outcome for children is when their parents continue to function in cooperation with one another, transcending negative statements and behaviors.

Tips for showing support to a child coping with a family divorce:

● Provide a quiet place (without interruptions) for child to discuss and experience

    her/his feelings

● Be a good listener

● Provide empathy

● Provide reassuring hugs

● Let them know the divorce was not their fault

● Provide stress-reducing opportunities such as creating an art project, playing cards or

    board games, and exercising

● Arrange for children to spend time playing with their friends

● Refrain from blaming and name-calling

● Keep habits and rituals as normal as possible

● Alert necessary school personnel of the situation as they can be a source of support for

    the child while at school

● Be patient

 

 

● Divorce: Helping Children Cope

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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