The months or years leading to divorce are often laden with conflict. And even if spouses try to hide it from their kids, it will still seep through in more ways than one. Needless to say, divorce is tough on everyone involved, especially the kids. But it is even harder to handle for kids if their parents are always at each other’s throats.
It can be extremely difficult for partners to minimize conflict during the process of a divorce, especially if there are highly sensitive issues at play (e.g. abuse, infidelity, neglect, etc.). However, parents must keep in mind that their divorce will have a significant impact on their children’s lives, and the effects of it can last well into their kids’ adult lives.
That said, helping kids cope through a divorce is crucial, especially when it is a high-conflict one. For parents that are going through this type of separation, here are some important things to keep in mind:
Avoid demonizing the other parent
You are mad at your spouse for their shortcomings during the marriage, but does this mean you can badmouth them in front of your kids? Definitely not. Doing this will do more harm than good to an already sensitive situation. Demonizing your partner in front of your kids will only encourage them to choose sides, which might sound good if they favor you, but is actually potentially damaging to your children’s emotional and mental maturity.
If you want to let off some steam and rant about your soon-to-be ex, do it in front of other adults, not your children, and ideally not in front of other family members as well. Moreover, don’t let them hear you talking bad about their other parent even when you’re in the other room talking on the phone. If you must rant, make sure that it’s out of your children’s earshot.
Have a truce with your partner
Divorces can cause a barrage of negative effects on a child’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being. But when they are going through a high-conflict divorce, the effects can be ten times worse.
If you are at a point where you can’t be in the same room with your partner for more than five minutes without arguing, it’s time to come up with a truce for the sake of both of your mental health and especially your kids. Have an agreement that you will not pick fights with each other when the children are around (it’s better if you don’t pick fights at all, but this can be impossible during a divorce). When both of you agree to keep the relationship as civil as possible, at least in front of the kids, it will be easier for everyone to cope with the separation.
Listen to your children
Anger, confusion, sadness, guilt, and fear: kids feel a lot of different emotions during a divorce, and it’s your job as a parent to help them through these emotions. Listen to what your kids have to say, and if they don’t know what to say, help them word out their feelings.
Children feel more secure when they know their voices are heard, more so when their feelings are validated. When going through a high-conflict divorce, it is more crucial that you take the time to listen to your kids, even if you are going through a thousand different emotions yourself.
Keep details hidden
Finding letters from a bicycle accident lawyer is okay, but letters from a divorce lawyer can be devastating to a child’s young mind.
Ask friends and family to keep the details of the divorce hidden from your children. Keep e-mails, text messages, letters, and other correspondences in a safe place where your kids can’t find them. Your children don’t need to know the details of a divorce. It will only serve to confuse them even further, which can make it harder for them to understand and cope with the current circumstances.
Only let children know what they need to know. Keep the other details to yourself and your closest loved ones. If there is going to be a discussion about the divorce, ensure that your kids are not within earshot. Better yet, do it in a place other than home to eliminate the risk of your children overhearing the discussion.
Take care of yourself
Eat right, drink enough water, squeeze in some workouts, and get enough sleep. Taking care of yourself might not be easy during a highly stressful time, but it will help you be in the best state (physically and mentally) to take care of your children as well.
Divorce is more difficult, stressful, and exhausting when there are high tension and conflict in the relationship. While your kids are bound to react negatively, you can make it easier for them to cope by using these strategies and avoiding conflict with your spouse at all costs.