Helping Children Cope with Divorce

Helping Children Cope with Divorce

Parenting: Four Tips for Parents Helping Children Deal with a Marital Break-up

There is no magic word that will help children adjust perfectly to divorce. But the good news is that there’s lots of help available.

The emotional and financial changes that come with divorce are arguably the two largest factors in a child’s ability to cope successfully. While some studies show that children experience psychological problems when divorce-related financial difficulties occur, money is no guarantee of happiness. Strategies to purchase a child’s love may in fact backfire.

In her book “Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect, What You Can Do,” Marsha Temlock notes that children may resent the parent who comes out wealthier after a divorce. “Financial stress may also induce long-lasting problems”, says Sheryl Nantus, an author from Pennsylvania, whose parents divorced when she was four. “Even though I’m now financially secure, I worry about money constantly and flinch at paying full price for anything,” she says.

Children who are confident and happy before the divorce will adapt more easily than shy or nervous children. While children with high intelligencestill experience emotional problems, they will be less severe. It is possible that some children may even benefit from divorce later in life with increased skills in social problem solving.Equally important is the custodial parent’s well-being.
Dr. David Fassler, a child psychiatrist from Vermont, says that less obvious forms of stress placed on a child such as a parent’s depression can be difficult for children.

Simply speaking, happy parents make for happy children. This means that when mom and dad invest in their own physical, mental, or psychological health, the kids benefit. And no, this does not mean parents are encouraged to sign up for package tours of the Caribbean while the little ones sit alone in front of the TV: the children come first. Here area few tips to remember as youtry to help your children cope with your divorce.

1. Parents are still parents.

Maintaining good parenting skills during a divorce is crucial to a child’s positive development. Parents will need to watch their children even more carefully than they had before. Young children need to bedirected their homework rather than toward the TV; adolescents will require slightly more supervision to ensure continued success at school.

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Positive discipline teaches children that their actions have consequences, provides children with a sense of responsibility and helps them learn self-control. Young children do not have the experience or education to make many important decisions and divorce is not a free pass into adulthood. Rather, divorce is a time when parents need to be clear that adults make large decisions. While discipline does provide children with stability, if a parent establishes unreasonable, impartial, or inconsistent rules, their children may develop emotional and academic problems.

2. Contact with dad.

If children are separated from their father after a divorce, it is not the frequency of contact that will help them cope with emotional difficulties but the quality of contact. A father needs to remember that he is not a friend, an uncle, or an older brother. Parental responsibilities such as moral education, errand-running and cooking do not end or transfer to mom after a divorce. Children who have a father with great parenting skills will be better adjusted emotionally, socially, and academically. Clinical psychologist Dr. Debbie Glasser shines a light on the future when she says that an important thing is that kids by watching their fathers learn what fathers can be like. They can learn how to be a father or how to choose a future father for their children.”

3. Coparental cooperation.

Children should not see their parents fighting. Studies show that when bad blood between parents continues to boil, children absorb some of the steam. If parents can hold a civil relationship, their next step is to establish a cooperative strategy in raising the children. Parents need to agree on rules in both households and work with each other’s schedules to accommodate their children’s needs. Jenn Hollowell, a mom from Richmond, Maine, and her ex-husband agreed that mirroring households would be best for their children because their stability, comfort, and sense of security are what are important.

“Parents are encouraged to continue a positive relationship with their children by sharing details of each other’s life. However anything related to the divorce should be avoided, as children worry about their parents. They both played the game where they sort of used us kids,” says April Enders, an Administrative Assistant for the FAA. “It made it hard, and I know it put my younger siblings in the middle. The National Association of Social Workers warns that exposing children to negative comments or using them as messengers between fighting ex-spouses will create lifelong relationship issues for all involved.”

4. Social support.

Friends, neighbors, relatives, adult mentors, schools, and sports associations can be almost as important as good parental care. Parents might also consider professional help such as individual therapy and school programs.

5. Keep the balance.

So is there one big thing parents can do for children experiencing divorce? No. Coping techniques work in a balance and it is important to watch how one aspect of post-divorce life might affect another. It is a myth that children of divorce will inevitably be damaged in some way. They will be changed, yes, but only as far as any experience will change a person. With effort and commitment, parents can successfully help their children through a challenging time.


After a divorce, you should monitor five areas of your child’s life to see how they’re coping with divorce. (Clarke-Stewart, Alison. Divorce: Causes and Consequences. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006)

1. School:

Children from divorced families have a greater risk of doing poorly in school, especially adolescents. Some studies show that adolescents from divorced families are twice as likely to drop out of school. Elaine Shimburg, author of “The Complete Single Father,” suggests to both parents that if school work is suffering, go meet with the teacher together, so the teacher and the kids know that you are a team when it comes to your kids.

2. Relationship with siblings:

During a divorce, parents have a tendency to give older children a parental role over their younger siblings. Extra help around the house may be justified, but children should not be given the caregiving tasks of an adult.

3. Grandparents:

Grandparents can provide valuable support during a divorce. Children who have close relationships with their grandparents will have fewer adjustment problems.

4. Free time:

Infants and toddlers need more support during imaginative play. School-age children may begin to steal or become violent. Adolescents may engage in delinquent acts or become antisocial.

5. Outlook on life:

Adolescents from divorced families have a higher chance of starting to smoke or use other drugs. Some develop low self-esteem and become depressed. Younger children may feel depressed while preschoolers may feel responsible for the divorce. The National Association of Social Workers cautions not to panic if feelings of loss occur following separation but if feelings and behaviors do not begin to diminish after a few months seek counseling.

About the authorDave Bolster is a writer based in Kansas City. He was an elementary school teacher for five years and often writes on education issues. He is currently working on his second book about his travels in rural China.

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