Making the decision to get a divorce is tough. Making the decision to divorce with kids is even tougher. This is the first post in a series about how to help your child when you and your partner decide to divorce. In this post, I’m sharing seven steps for how to handle the pre-divorce period: the potentially argument-filled, tense time when you’ve decided to separate, but haven’t actually divorced. This is a stressful time, but there are things you can do to make the process easier for your child.
1. Don’t argue or fight with your partner while your child is listening. This is crucial! The amount of conflict children witness before the divorce is a huge factor in their adjustment. Be careful – children are often listening even when you think they can’t hear you, such as if they’re in another room or supposed to be asleep.
2. Don’t ever criticize your partner in front of your child. No matter how frustrated or upset you’re feeling, it’s not appropriate or helpful to share these feelings with your child. Call a friend if you need to vent – but be sure your child can’t hear you talking!
3. Don’t ask your child to choose sides in any conflict with the other parent. They will feel stressed to be caught in the middle, and it can feel like they’re betraying the other parent.
4. Be available to listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings. It’s easy to overlook your kids when you are in the midst of such a stressful time. Make time to talk with them and really listen to how they’re doing.
5. Notice your child’s good behavior and praise them often. Sometimes parents are distracted by the divorce and forget to notice these things.
6. Take responsibility for your own behavior. You can’t change or control your partner, but you can change and control yourself. No matter what your partner might be saying, try to focus on continuing to have a good relationship with your child.
7. Take care of yourself. The better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of your child. This may mean relying on family and good friends, seeking counseling, working out, and/or minimizing alcohol.
Click here to read Part 2 – Telling your Kids about the Divorce.