Divorce brings a slew of changes–both good and bad–to everyone involved. Your children are no exception. In the face of dramatic changes in the way their family looks and operates, it’s natural for children to have some difficulty as they adjust to their new circumstances. You can help them through the transition as they process their feelings and come to terms with the modifications in their lives. Here are some ways to help them feel more comfortable and better adapt to the changes in their lives in the wake of your divorce:
Keep Consistent Routines
Consistency starts with keeping the things from your old life the same, whenever you reasonably can. If you used to read a story to them every night before bed, continue that. If the story-reading parent is your co-parent, consider trying out story time through Zoom or Facetime. You could hold the book and turn the pages, while they read the story. Routine can also come from attending soccer games or walking your child to the bus stop in the morning.
Even if the plan worked out by your custody attorney requires the old routines to look a bit different, find ways to adapt cherished routines to your new life. These efforts will reassure your child that many of the things they love will still happen, even if they look slightly different.
Consistency also means keeping rules the same. Don’t give in to the temptation to allow more freedoms or ignore rules simply because you feel bad about the divorce. Keep bedtime the same and ask your child to complete the same chores. Continuing these things creates structure during a time that can feel overwhelming, while also making their new life feel similar to their old life. Your child probably won’t thank you for making them do the dishes or limiting screen time, but if those were the rules before divorce, there is value in keeping them after the split as well.
Give Your Child a Private Space
As they process changes and big feelings, your child will benefit from having a safe, private space. This could be their bedroom or just a private corner in another room. Let them know this is their spot, and avoid interrupting them when they are there unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Outfit Both Homes
Your child will likely be spending time in two different homes. That’s a significant change from their former situation and can be a source of frustration or stress. Ensure that they have essential items in both homes. Ask if they’d like to split their stuffed animal or toy collections so that they have favorite items in both spots. If possible buy duplicates of some treasured items so they don’t have to go without. Of course you can’t entirely recreate their room and all their possessions, but you can make sure both spaces feel like home and have everything they need.
Be a Sounding Board
One of the best things you can do to help your child process the divorce is to let them talk about their feelings. Make it clear you are there for them if they want to talk.
Some children may take a while to process it on their own or may not know how to express how they are feeling. Give them time to work things out on their own, but remind them that you are available to listen.
When they do come to you, be mindful about being defensive or getting upset. You may still be processing your own feelings, and you may have strong thoughts about your child’s other parent. Keep harsh words and judgment to yourself and make these emotion-sharing sessions positive and easy for your child. Listening without interjecting your opinion will allow them to feel comfortable continuing to share, ask questions, and keep you included in their emotional journey. Open communication will be a key factor in how well they adapt to the changes in their life.
Make Time for Fun
Talking about feelings and enforcing rules are important. But don’t forget to look for opportunities to let off a little steam. Carve out time in your schedule for fun. Go roller skating with your child or take them to a children’s museum. Book a parent-child cooking class or spend an afternoon at the local pool.
Creating moments that make you and your child smile together will be beneficial for you both. It will strengthen your bond and remind them that even though their life is different, there is still much joy and happiness in it. Stepping away from stressful conversations with your ex or talking about finances with your divorce lawyer, in order to laugh and play with your child will be great for both of you.
Seek Outside Help
Sometimes, no matter how thoughtful you are, your child might benefit from having outside help to process changes and the accompanying feelings. If your child seems to be struggling, seek out professional counseling from a therapist trained to work with children. They can offer insights you might have missed. Your child may be more able to open up with someone outside the family because they won’t have to worry about hurting your feelings or upsetting you.
It will take a while for everyone in the family to adjust to a divorce and understand what that means for their lives. Be patient with your child as they process their feelings and adapt to the changes in their world. Providing support, encouragement, and structure can help them adapt and settle into their new reality.