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Divorce & Separation

Dear Debi,
My sister & her husband are going through a rocky divorce and itís starting to affect my nieces & nephew. How can we help their kids through this transition?
Renee Torres
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Reassure your child that itís not his fault
  • Try to maintain your childís routines
  • Do not use your child as your main support system
  • Help your child maintain a strong, loving relationship with both parents
  • Seek professional help if necessary
Expert Advice
Stan Katz, Ph.D.
Stan Katz, Ph.D.
Parents can help their children through this difficult time by not involving the kids in the conflicts of the parents. Keep childrenís routines as consistent as possible. If possible, make their bedrooms in each home similar. Allow your children to express their feelings about the separation or divorce. Let them know that the divorce or separation is not their fault. If they express their wish for the parents to get back together, let them know that itís normal for them to feel this way, yet unlikely that it will happen. Assure them that although changes will occur, they will be okay.

When parents talk with their children about a separation or divorce, they should tell them the truth as simply as possible. Do not tell them the reasons for the split. Tell them that they will now have two homes. If the parents are separating, tell them that you are not going to live together now, but that you are working on the relationship. Donít give details of the problems in the relationship and donít give them false hope that you will ultimately get back together. With the finality of divorce, let them know with whom they are going to live with and when they will be living there.

Parents absolutely need to avoid bringing the child or children into the middle of the parentsí dispute. Donít rely on the child for support during this time. Rely on your family and friends. Donít ever demean or devalue the other parent in front of the child. If you demean or devalue the other parent, then in the childís mind, you are actually demeaning and devaluing that child. Also, donít let anyone else speak badly about the other parent in front of your child.

During a divorce or separation, both parents really need to be ďchild-centeredĒ at this time Ė focused on the welfare of their children. Parents must always keep the best interest of the child in mind. Both parents should spend time with the children and stay involved in their lives by going to school activities, sports activities, etc. Boys are at particularly high risk for future problems if their fathers donít stay involved in their lives. Encourage your children to talk openly about their fears and feelings. Actively listen to your children at this time.

Parents should consider seeking professional help for the kids if their child is experiencing extreme changes in sleep or eating habits, if their child is having severe behavioral changes or if their child is constantly sad and seemingly unable to experience joy.
Child Care Provider Comments
Ana Arguello
Ana Arguello
Mother of 4-year-old son
ím currently going through a divorce. I told my son that his father and I would be living in different houses. Dad would live with the grandparents and I was staying at home with him. My sonís behavior did change after the divorce. There was definitely an increase in his tantrums. He would get mad and say, ďI want to go with daddy.Ē Now, I try to listen to more than just the content of my sonís words. I try to get the feeling for what he is saying. I let him talk all he wants about his father even though it isnít easy for me. My ex-husband and I try not to get into petty fights with him at all.
Janelle Kwock
Janelle Kwock
Child care provider for 4-year old
Iíve tried to help Ana's son, Aristid, by keeping his mind off the divorce, but it is an adjustment for him. I was a nanny for three years so I know when kids are going through a tough time. I want Aristid to still have fun and realize that it isnít the end of the world. Weíll play games, color, do crafts and stuff like that. He tells me about school and his friends. He may bring up something he did with his dad over the weekend. Aristid needs that positive male influence in his life so I think it is great that Ana and her ex are on good terms.
Darlene Patterson
Darlene Patterson
Family child care provider for 22 years and mother of three
As a child care provider, if I know a child that has parents going through a divorce, I will try to keep everything exactly the same. You donít want to change anything since things at home are changing so much. But donít think you have to overly protect the child. Kids are stronger than we think. Sometimes they are actually stronger than we are.

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Divorce & Separation Featured Video:
Divorce & Separation
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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