Around Our Town...Family
What About the Kids? (Part 2)
01/01/2006 - In the December column, we talked about the effects of divorce on children. I would like to expand on that theme to help identify a plan for parents who have divorced to help their children get through it in the best possible manner. In his book Angry Kids, Dr. Richard L. Berry devotes an entire chapter to discussing how divorce causes children to be angry. He lists the following reasons that children are angry over divorce:
1.There is nothing a child can do about divorce. They are completely powerless over their parents' decisions.
2.There are so many adjustments that kids have to make. Examples would include: missing a parent, having to choose sides, changes in schools, routines, and activities, and possibly dealing with the financial strain of divorce.
3.They are pulled in both directions – feeling like they can't make one parent happy without hurting the other parent (divided loyalty).
4.One parent or both may make the child into a "junior parent", confidante, or pseudo-spouse. This can put undue pressure on kids to grow up too quickly, take on adult responsibilities, and create jealousy when the parent begins dating.
The plan for parents who want to focus on putting the needs of their children first following a divorce is as follows (according to Dr. Berry):
1.Tell your children about the divorce only when you are certain there is no turning back. This works best when the parents tell all of the children together. It is important to tell them that it is not their fault and that both parents still love them. They don't need to know intimate details of why the divorce is happening. Allow time to process the information – don't tell them five minutes before they have to leave for school.
2.Reassure your children regularly that they didn't cause the divorce. Even if the child in his or her anger had "wished a parent gone", they need to know that they are not responsible for the divorce.
3.Keep them informed regarding how the changes will affect them. Important things to share with them include: moving, changing schools, details regarding contact with the other parent, etc.
4.Encourage your children to ask questions. Often, children don't ask questions because they don't want to upset anyone.
5.Minimize change whenever possible. Anything parents can do to allow children to make fewer adjustments will be helpful. Examples of trying to maintain stability include the same residence, the same home, the same school, the same activities (church, extracurricular activities), continued contact with extended families (both paternal and maternal), etc.
6.Both parents need to maximize time spent and connection with their children. They need for you to remember their birthdays, take them on outings, keep commitments, and maintain regular visitation if you are the non-custodial parent. Sometimes the non-custodial parent finds it so painful to say goodbye to their child at the end of visitation that they begin to avoid contact with the child. Think about the feelings of rejection and abandonment that this causes!
7.Never use visitation as a weapon! Always allow reasonable visitation with the other parent unless safety issues are a factor. Periodically reassess how the visitation is going and whether it needs to be revised.
8.Never put the child in the position of choosing sides.
9.Encourage your child to be honest. Children will often avoid telling their divorced parents how they really feel because they want to avoid hurting either parent.
10.Don't use expensive gifts, vacations or special privileges to entice or manipulate your children to want to live with you.
11.Keep negative thoughts about the other parent to yourself.
12.Don't try to pump your child for information about the ex-spouse.
13.Resolve differences with your ex-spouse as quickly as possible.
14.Don't try to control or punish your ex-spouse. Instead, focus your energy on the things you can control.
15.Above all, try for resolution, not rigid fairness for each parent. As your kids grow up they will know if you have acted in their best interest or have been more concerned about what is fair for you.
There are many more suggestions for helping children through divorce but these are at least a beginning. As we head into a new year, if you have been "blowing it" in terms of handling your children who have been affected by your divorce, it would be a great time to make a resolution. Happy New Year!
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The Healing Place,
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Casper, Wyoming 82601