Divorce is a challenging life-event for every Arizona family going through it, parents and children alike. We have talked about the importance of managing stress and learning coping skills as a spouse or parent, but what about the children of divorce? How does a child manage the powerful emotions that surface when parents separate?
For children, their parents’ break-up can be confusing and painful. Everything they know to be true and depend upon, their very foundation, seems shaken. Daily routine? Gone. Living together as one family? Impossible. That’s a scary, upsetting situation for a child. Children are not equipped with the skills necessary to handle such an event. They need help coping with stress and with the emotional impact their parents’ divorce can have on them.
In this discussion, we offer techniques for Moms and Dads to integrate into day-to-day parenting time. Tips intended to help parents help their kids work through an extraordinary experience. At Stewart Law Group, we work hard for our clients so that children affected by divorce have every opportunity to thrive and become happy, well-adjusted young people who are confident and know they are loved.
Take a look at this list of recommended family law books put together by SLG’s legal team. A number of topics are covered. We’ve included divorce books specifically for kids along with books for divorcing parents on helping their children through the process.
Surprised when spouses become all-consumed with divorce proceedings? With so much going on in their case, parties sometimes lose sight of the effect divorce can have on their child. Pay attention! Your child needs you now.
Understand that divorce can profoundly affect a child’s emotional development. Kids often feel guilty or responsible for ruining everything. As a caring parent, you should prepare your child for the reality of divorce in an age-appropriate, developmentally-appropriate way.
Once parents have separated, their child’s emotional well-being will depend, in part, upon how the adults handle all the court proceedings. Parents need to be grounded. They need to keep their emotions in check and do what is in the child’s best interests.
Divorce is transformational for a family. There are two households instead of one, which is a big change for everyone. It can be especially traumatic to a child. Every family faces unique circumstances. If there is a possibility of domestic violence or abuse, then take additional precautions to ensure you and your child remain safe. Always put safety first!
Be ready to ease your child into a different lifestyle after divorce and keep the following parenting tips in mind.
You were a child once, too. Be empathetic and envision what life looks like through your child’s eyes. Try to understand a child’s perspective of the lifestyle changes divorce represents. Be ready to talk.
Communicate to your child that he or she is not guilty of having destroyed your marriage. Kids worry that they are the cause of their parents’ divorce. Such misconceptions need to be countered immediately. From the first conversation about separation, affirm the break-up is not your child’s fault. Be ready to reaffirm that fact in subsequent conversations.
Small children may worry they did something, said something, or thought something bad. Which caused bad things to happen. So everything must be the child’s fault. This is typical of how a child reasons. Sometimes children behave in a manner that strains a marriage. They may be the source of significant disharmony between parents. The child who is aware of this may be self-blaming and, therefore, feel directly responsible for the divorce. Explain to your child that marital disharmony followed by divorce is an adult solution to an adult problem.
Children are soothed by frequent reassurances. Reassure that Mom and Dad “will always love you” and “will never leave you.” Because children communicate by actions as often as they do with words, look for mood indicators in your child’s behavior. A child who is afraid of abandonment, for example, may compensate by being exceedingly complaisant. A child could just as easily react by being combative or disobedient in an effort to confirm the parents love him (no matter how bad the behavior). When spouses divorce, kids worry about whether they will still be loved. Therefore, both parents should consistently display their love and affection for the child. Show your love.
Sometimes it is helpful to explain that a parent’s love for his or her child does not weaken or go away when adults divorce. Communicate to your child, age appropriately, how a parent’s bond with a child only grows and strengthens, despite whatever issues came between Mom and Dad. Children need to know that the love their parents have for them is permanent and quite different from the love that spouses shared with each other. Throughout life, the bond between parent and child stays the course.
Importantly, both parents should strive to develop and maintain stable living conditions. Even with the child sharing two residences during parenting time, stability at home can strengthen that child’s ability to deflect any negative effects of divorce. All while promoting positive growth and development. To provide a stable home environment for your child, you need to take care of yourself, too.
Parents need to stay fit emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Take time for yourself. Follow good nutritional practices and exercise to stay healthy, mentally strong, and reduce stress. Make sure you get the emotional support you need. If that means professional counseling or group therapy, then take advantage of those services. The stronger and more confident you are, the more capable a parent you will be, and the happier and more well-adjusted your child will be.
During the divorce, let your child talk about his or her feelings without your leaning on him or her for adult emotional support. You need not pretend to be happy 24/7, but you should be listening to your child without unloading your own adult problems. If your emotions are too raw, then consider asking the child’s grandparent, aunt, pastor, or spiritual advisor to speak with the child about what is so troubling.
Many faith-based organizations offer group programs for children of divorce as well. These programs provide different kinds of support for kids and families through all phases of divorce. If day-to-day living is deteriorating, for you or for your child, then give professional counseling with a mental health professional serious consideration.
A parent’s behavior may be interpreted (or misinterpreted) by the child as the child’s failure. Which could lead to feelings of abandonment or of being unwanted and unloved. When parents take personal wellness seriously – mind, body, and spirit – they are far better equipped to recognize their child’s needs (during divorce and after) and take action to eliminate distressing situations.
News of divorce can shock a child, it’s the first shoe to drop. The second shoe to drop is having to relocate. When moving out of the marital home, try very hard to minimize everyone’s emotional response to sorting, packing, and leaving. Generally, divorce means one spouse moves out of the marital home, although sometimes both parents relocate. To the young child, particularly, moving can increase feelings of separation from the non-residential parent. Moving out of the community to an unfamiliar place can cause the child greater anxiety. The whole world is changing! For their child’s well-being and for reasons of stability, parents should consider maintaining residences within the same community. Be patient in letting your child adjust.
To learn how much change there is for children of divorce, obtain our book: Arizona Child Custody Essentials, What Every Parent Needs to Know.
Everyone moves forward at their own pace, children included. Each child will recover differently from divorce, taking in all aspects of the new family arrangement step-by-step. Give your child time to adjust and assimilate. A lot of changes accompany separation and divorce, in living arrangements and in lifestyle. Kids can be very resilient, but they still need sufficient time to adapt to changed circumstances and recalibrate. Children seem to adjust more readily when they have a sense of control over what is happening to them. Overwhelmed by the changes divorce brings, some children develop unhealthy mechanisms of shielding themselves from more hurt and anxiety.
Be aware of your child’s feelings long after the divorce. Children may exhibit problems two, even three years later. A very young child may not be capable of verbalizing feelings, but instead may seem depressed or may act-out inappropriately. If your child is in school, then pay attention if grades are dropping, classes are skipped, or the child seems disinterested with classroom and after-school activities. Should you observe these signs, consider connecting your child with a mental health professional, children’s psychologist, or family counselor. Some things are just too much, too soon.
As a recently divorced parent, be cautious about moving in with a significant other and with integrating your child into a new, ready-made family. Children who must accommodate a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend (along with “step-siblings”) within the first year or two following the divorce are forced to deal with very complex circumstances. This may be too much, too soon. Try not to create a situation that puts your child at greater risk for emotional or developmental problems.
Your child may resist some of the changes that are coming, and that’s to be expected. Big adjustments take time and effort. If you plan to bring a significant other into your home life, then give your child ample time to become accustomed to the notion of a new parental figure. Be mindful that there has been a great upheaval in the child’s lifestyle already. Blending families or having an adult move in with you right after the divorce could be met with substantial resistance from your child. It could also delay your child’s ability to adapt to life after divorce. However, if you do make such a change, then be watchful of your child’s subsequent behavior. Look for any signs that he or she is struggling with the modified living arrangement. Try balancing respect for your child’s feelings, with your need to move on with life after the divorce.
Arguments between parents can sometimes devolve from, what began as, purposeful discussions about child rearing. What the child should be doing or not doing after school ends or how one parent disciplines or fails to discipline the child can end loudly with much finger-pointing. A youngster may feel he or she is the root cause of marital strife, the reason for the break-up, when overhearing these heated conversations. Do not let your child feel to blame for what is wrong between adults.
Never argue about the child in the child’s presence. Instead, parents should display mutual respect and caring of each other. They should show how they value each other as parents of the child they both love. If discussions about the child always end antagonistically, then that child may feel responsible. Respect the other parent as the mother or father of your child.
Value your continuing relationship with your child, and value the other parent’s continuing relationship with your child. In normal child development, a young child should idealize both parents. Parents are first understood to be wise and powerful. As the child matures, he or she gradually sees parents as ordinary people complete with a few foibles and many idiosyncrasies. When one parent belittles or alienates the other parent, the child may be conflicted, feel guilty or disloyal, or have difficulty idealizing the denigrated parent.
Remember that you and your ex are a parenting team. In determining legal decision-making custody, Arizona law requires that the judge consider, among other factors, which parent is “more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with the other parent,” to thereby encourage an healthy parent-child relationship after the marriage is dissolved. (See ARS § 25-403(6) for legal decision-making in Arizona law.)
Therefore, do not alienate the other parent from your child. Never disparage the other parent in front of your child. The more parental conflict the child experiences, the more difficult it can be for the child to adjust to life after divorce. Children should not be made to feel they have to choose one parent over the other, or be pressured to take sides in what is really an adult dispute. Children are quick enough to pick up on parental conflict, they do not deserve negative reinforcement by one parent against the other. Parental alienation is a serious matter. One that a child custody evaluator will be quick to recognize and the family court swift to address. Should the other parent cross the line of reasonable behavior to alienate you from your child, remain neutral and factual in any response to your child’s inquiries. Then make a note about what happened in your Parenting Time Journal and, if necessary, discuss the matter with an experienced child custody attorney.
Always work together as a parenting team for the benefit of your child. That means putting your child’s best interests first. When parents remain focused on the needs of their children, they teach important life-lessons about commitment, civility, and overcoming obstacles. These are just kids in a difficult situation. They need Mom’s and Dad’s help getting through what can be a very tough time.
Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult things to face in life. Our Arizona divorce attorneys are legal experts that can help with all your legal needs. Contact us today at (602) 548-3400 for professional legal assistance.