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Family & Home: Coping with Divorce

There's nothing easy about divorce. When a marriage or long term partnership ends, it can be an incredibly painful and challenging time for parents and children.

There are things you can do to promote your family's healing and help your children cope with the changes that lie ahead.

Give empathy, attention and reassurance. Spend time with your children and show them that, although your family is experiencing changes, you are still a family. Let them know you understand how difficult it can be to handle these changes and you will do everything you can to help them through this time. Reassure your children that you will always love them and be available for them.

Communicate. Your children may ask many questions about the divorce. Why did it happen? Will you get married again? Listen to their questions. They may not be seeking long explanations about the divorce, but may simply be seeking reassurance that you will be available for them and they will be loved and cared for.

Answer their questions honestly - and at a level that is consistent with their age. For example, a 5-year-old's questions will typically require a less detailed response than those of a 12-year-old will.

Young children do not yet understand the complexities of adult relationships and may feel somehow responsible for your divorce. Ensure that they understand kids cannot cause divorce or other "grown up" difficulties.

There will be times when you will not be able to answer all their questions. Or you may choose not to. That's okay. Tell your children that you will do your best to answer their questions.

Let your children know they can always come to you with their feelings and concerns. But don't pressure them to talk. Reassure them that it's okay to feel sad, worried or mad. Help them find positive ways to express their feelings. Examples might include: talking with others, keeping a journal, drawing a picture, playing, or participating in physical activity. These will vary according to your children's ages and interests.

Promote routines. Children typically do best when they have consistency and predictability in their lives. When you can, try to keep meals, discipline, routines and schedules as consistent as possible in both houses.

Don't badmouth your ex. While you may be experiencing the end of your marriage, your former spouse will always be your children's father or mother - and your parenting partner. Choose your words carefully when talking about him or her in front of the children.

Minimize conflicts. Divorce can be a time of intense conflict and disagreements. Yet you're expected to make joint decisions about serious issues as custody, visitation and finances. One way to minimize conflicts and ease your family's adjustment during this time is to seek the services of a family mediator. Although a mediator is not a substitute for independent legal advice, he or she can help parents make family decisions with an emphasis on cooperation and their family's best interests.

There are some circumstances when mediation would not be appropriate for families. Contact your local court's administrator for additional information and referrals.

Seek support for your children. You may notice changes in your children's behavior, such as a temporary decline in schoolwork. Or you may observe eating or sleeping difficulties, trouble concentrating, stomachaches or headaches. Younger children may become "clingy" or have more tantrums. Some changes in behavior are to be expected. However, if the changes are severe, don't improve over time, or you have other concerns, seek professional guidance.

Counseling and support groups for children are available through community mental health centers and the public school system. Or your pediatrician can provide appropriate referrals. These services can help your children adjust, feel supported, and develop helpful coping strategies.

Talk with teachers and caregivers. Let your children's teachers and other caregivers know about the family changes so they can share feedback about your children's behavior and be sensitive to your children's needs.

Seek support for yourself. When you help yourself, you are helping your family. Create a support system that works for you. Seek new friendships with other single parents. Ask for help from trusted friends and adult family members. Find counseling and support groups.

When you seek support and coping strategies during this difficult time, you will promote your own recovery and healing. In addition, as your children watch you, they will learn important life lessons about how to handle challenges and loss.

With support, love, and a strong commitment to parenting, you and your family can survive -even thrive- during this challenging time.

For additional information:

Internet

www.AboutOurKids.org

www.KidsHealth.org

www.ParentswithoutPartners.org

Books for Parents

Co-Parenting After Divorce, by Diana Shulman
Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way, by M. Gary Neuman
Making Divorce Easier on Your Child, by Nicholas Long and Rex L. Forehand

For Younger Children

Dinosaurs Divorce, by Laurene and Marc Brown
I Don't Want to Talk About It, by Jeanie Franz Ransom

For Older Children

My Parents Are Divorced, Too: A Book for Kids by Kids, by Jan Blackstone-Ford, Annie Ford, Stephen Ford, Melanie Ford

Debbie Glasser, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of NewsForParents.org. She is the author of "Positive Parenting," a weekly feature of the Miami Herald.

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