Divorce, Child, Cope

Divorce Through The Eyes Of A Child


By Annie Miller, LMFT


This is blog post #1 in the series “Helping My Child Cope After A Divorce.” 


Sometimes things breakdown in a relationship.  A marital relationship is no exception. A troubled marriage can leaves spouses hurt, confused, lost, and angry, especially when it leads to divorce.  Children are intuitive, and will often anticipate a divorce long before parents communicate this to the child. So, what does divorce look like for children and how can you help them cope? We have the answer below. 


What Does Divorce Look Like Through The Eyes Of A Child? 


Here are some of the most common things children may experience surrounding a divorce. 


  • They are afraid. A divorce can bring about fear and anxiety for a child. Your child might worry that you will stop loving them — especially if they hear you say that you don’t love your ex-spouse any longer.
  • Their world is shaken up. Many kids feel sad over the loss of the family unit. It can be an intense loss for them. 
  • They are angry. Teens, especially, are prone to experiencing anger surrounding a divorce. They might wonder why the parents have to upset their life — especially if they have to change schools. Teens are usually already coping with a lot of life changes and so the divorce might cause anger and worry. 
  • They are in shock and denial. Some kids may experience denial when they learn that their parents are getting a divorce. They may not be ready to accept the fact that the two of you will no longer live together. 


Now that you know how divorce looks through the eyes of your child, here are some tips to help them cope. 


How To Talk With Your Child About Divorce 



Be clear, and straightforward with your child, in language that is age-appropriate. 


Although a marriage sometimes ends, the family remains. Although there is a change between the spouses, a parent’s love for their child never ends.  This is the on-going message. Provide this reassurance to your child as much as they need.  


When they are ready, allow them a voice to talk about how they would like their family to be as it changes. 


Here are a few questions to engage them: 


    • What did you like most about our family when mom and dad were married? 
    • What did you like least?  


How To Ease Your Child’s Fear About Divorce 



As you start a process of separation and divorce, keep in your mind these two words: 


  • Marriage: Spouses


  • Family: Parents, children, siblings, grandparents 


For a child, when a parent’s marriage ends in divorce, what happens to their understanding of the family?  Where do they fit in? Divorce is an adult decision, one where a child can often feel voiceless and alone.  We want to foster an environment where a sense of family remains intact. Here are some important factors to keep in mind if you are currently going through a divorce and have children.  


Affirm Your Love 



Convey with great care how much you love your child, and will always love your child.  Sometimes children may wonder… if mom and dad stopped loving each other, could they stop loving me?  They need to hear often during the divorce transition and moving forward affirmation of how much they are loved. 


Be Clear 


Children may often hold on to the hope that their parents will reunite.  If held on to for too long, it may delay their healthy development and transition into a new family structure.  You can help by being clear and direct about the permanence of your life for you your child. Also, model this with a positive co-parenting plan with your ex-spouse.  Help them like the new family structure you will be creating for them


Be Consistent 


It is important to provide a consistent, predictable experience for your child during the transition. Let them know that they are safe and will be cared for no matter what changes may take place between their parents.  Key things to consider: 


  • Transition: You may have had more time to mentally/emotionally prepare for a divorce, kids haven’t. Go slow. Listen. Observe. 
  • Routine: Try to maintain some similarity to their usual routines, slowly help them create new routines with you and encourage the same with their other parent. 
  • Reassurance: Change will happen, try to model a sense of “okayness” with your child. This will help translate to them that ‘my mom may feel sad but she’s okay and can take care of me. I am safe and she loves me’.  Even though you may have many feelings you are processing, stay engaged. 


Stress That The Divorce Is Not Their Fault 


When the process of divorce begins, many changes begin to happen within your child’s normal structure and daily routine.  They need to see that their parents will still be okay and will be able to take care of themselves and their children.  


It is important to help your child understand that they are not to blame for the divorce. Many children will turn blame inwards when there parent’s marriage breaks down. They may think “Maybe if I hadn’t disobeyed mom, they wouldn’t have started fighting.” Or, “If I didn’t fight with my sister so much, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.” 


Keep Them Out Of The Middle 



Keep your child out of the adult decisions of divorce; let them simply be kids.  When children and teens become privy to too much information about the divorce, your frustrations with your ex-spouse, it can create a myriad of difficult feelings for a child to manage.  


Co-Parenting Resources  



For more co-parenting resources, tips, and hints, check back next week for my next blog post. I’ll be doing a series about Divorce and Family. Number two in the series is  “4 Things That Every Child Affected By Divorce Needs.” Subscribe to stay up-to-date with the latest tips and resources. 


To talk to one of our counselors about therapy for children coping with divorce, contact us today.