5 Ways to Protect Your Children During Divorce

On a daily basis, we as parents look to protect our children from all types of dangers that exist outside of our control.  For instance, it’s common to want our children to be safe from injuries, malicious strangers, and to limit their exposure to inappropriate content on the internet and social media, television, and movies.  Fortunately, when you and your spouse are going through the divorce process, you do have control over the level of conflict that your children experience.

Conflict Hurts

As an adult child of a highly contentious divorce, I know from personal experience that it is not the divorce itself that harms the children.  Divorce is simply a legal action.  It is the ongoing fighting and conflict that is the most harmful.

According to studies, children tend to identify with both parents and to want to please each one.  Therefore, if you talk negatively about the other parent, stop immediately.  Your child could learn to feel badly about himself.  He might also learn to tell you what he thinks you want to hear simply to avoid conflict.

As he grows up, your child might go out of his way to avoid conflict in his own personal relationships.  He might not learn that some conflict is a normal part of life and will not know what to do when it inevitably arises.

If your children do not have role models for healthy relationships, they might not learn how to make and keep friends.  They might also strive for perfection in an effort to be loved and approved by their parents.

What You Can Do Now

1.       Take responsibility and take action.  Instead of blaming your co-parent, identify how you might be contributing to the conflict and the action that can be taken.  For instance, if your child is doing poorly in school, come up with ways to help him or her, such as strategizing with the teacher.

2.       Focus on common interests.  More than likely, you and your co-parent both want the same thing, what is best for your children.  One of my wise colleagues, Dr. Jeryl Rempell, a certified family therapist in Short Hills, New Jersey, advises to “put your children at the center, not in the middle.”  As challenging as this might be, team up with your co-parent and hold each other accountable if one of you wavers from this common goal.

3.       Improve your communication skills.  For starters, consciously pause and reflect before speaking when your children are around.  Before you say anything, first assess the effect your words are likely to have on them.  Learn the communication skills needed to successfully co-parent.  Read books and articles on the subject.  Seek co-parenting counseling as necessary.

4.       Don’t rush into introducing your children to a new partner. It’s very important to allow your children the necessary time to grieve the loss of their family unit.  Seek the advice of a professional counselor who works with children.  You might also seek resources from the school guidance counselor on support groups.

5.       Be present and listen to your children.  Be available as a sounding board to listen to their feelings.  Don’t try to minimize or discredit how they feel, simply listen and validate. Strive to address any anger or hurt feelings separately from being present with your child, such as with the help of a trusted friend or mental health professional.

Remember, your children deserve the best of you!


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