How to prepare a child for a parent's divorce

How to prepare a child for the divorce of parents? Divorce, separation, moving out of one parent, is an extremely difficult experience not only for two adults. It's a trauma first and foremost for the child. Rarely do couples part without conflict, in a peaceful atmosphere and acceptance of all parties. It's not surprising either, as extreme emotions affect the effectivity of the reaction but not necessarily the rationalization of the situation. So is it possible to minimize losses and prepare the child for divorce?

As you can probably guess, this is very difficult. Why? because being in the middle of a crumbling world that was meant to last, it is natural to look for those responsible. You want to punish those who, in your mind, contributed to this disaster. After all, nothing has such a punishing effect on a partner as playing with the only remaining common asset which is - the child....

It does not matter who is the victim and who is the guilty party

The game usually has only one task - to inflict pain. The self-perpetuating spiral of mutual accusations of hatred during the parents' divorce draws the child in. It leaves him or her with a severely wounded psyche and never-healed trauma. So should you forcefully save your relationship for the sake of the child? No! There are situations in which the only good thing that is conducive to the development of the child is the separation of his parents (for example, in violent families). However, it's worthwhile for you to ask yourself what to do to part with the least possible loss of your family's psychological resources.

How to prepare for divorce?

First, before you decide to divorce, try to control your emotions and coldly analyze your relationship. Before you leave, think about whether this is your final decision, don't make it suddenly and hastily. Second, familiarize yourself with the law. Get legal advice, find out what the responsibilities and rights of a parent are. Third, take care of the most urgent matters.

No matter how cool it sounds, it is better to plan everything than to leave suddenly. Give your child a chance to get used to the situation. Prepare them for the divorce. Few things are worse for a child than when he wakes up in the morning and finds out that dad (mom) is gone. All his belongings are also gone. Your child needs to know what's going on as much as he can understand at his age. Infants don't have an understanding of the situation, but two-, three-year-olds, preschoolers already understand that one of their parents doesn't live with them. They just don't understand why. Older children understand what divorce is, but more often than not they may show disapproval or blame themselves for the breakup of the family. So both of you should explain to your child what is happening in your relationship.

Although this moment is difficult, it often allows the child to help accept the situation because of the parental unity shown. It is important to address with messages that do not blame anyone, let alone allow children to feel guilty. Try to use "we" phrases, to emphasize the community you still are for the child.

Negative emotions in divorce

In the course of a divorce, many times situations will arise that are beyond your ability to adapt. More than once you will let your nerves go and show your anger or despair. This is not good for anyone, but you certainly will not avoid difficult moments and negative emotions. When you don't manage, try not to show your fear, helplessness, anger to the child, especially when you know that when the emotions subside, the child will be left with them, not knowing how to cope.

If you already happen to do or say too much, explain to the child what it was caused by. Tell him how to deal with such a situation. Only mature emotionality allows you to cope with difficult moments, the child is just learning this, and will learn best from parents. Try to avoid disputes witnessed by the child. If, despite everything, you can not communicate, use family mediation. The goal of such mediation is to establish and adopt a joint, voluntary agreement. The sooner this agreement is reached, the fewer unpleasant words will be said. Thus, you will not get dragged into a long and grueling court process, which always involves a huge waste of time, strength and health.

Child after divorce

Divorce and what next? Often separating parents meddle with their child's affairs, by making the child a spy, messenger or their ally in the fight against the husband/wife. This puts one's offspring in a certain position, opposed to the other parent.

Don't ask your child who he wants to live with or go on vacation with. When a child is young he needs to love and be loved by both parents, he wants to spend time with both. As he gets older, he will make his own decisions about who he wants to spend time with and how much. You can be sure that your child will observe for himself which parent is manipulating. If you see such signs talk to your ex-husband/wife. This will avoid a situation in which the child starts to withdraw from the relationship with both of you. In the conversation, try to keep one topic, one problem, and do not return to the past. If the matter requires deeper clarification meet with your ex-partner on neutral ground without the child present.

Try to agree on parenting decisions together (school, activities, trips, health care, etc.), make sure to meet regularly with the other parent. Never speak ill of the other parent in front of the child, or delude the child with the possibility of a return. Don't promise something you know won't happen. What seems obvious to you must also be so to the child.

What effect does divorce have on a child?

Depending on age, a child may feel differently about the separation of parents. Always try to react if your child begins to show signs of developmental regression. If a toddler around the age of 3-5 starts wetting at night, sucking his thumb, or has an increased need for cuddling and does not accept separation even for a while - these are regression traits. It is then worth seeking psychological counseling.


A child between the ages of 6 and 12 is more likely to feel anxious, longing, crying and may show anger at the parent he or she blames for the breakup of the relationship. He may experience a deep sense of grief, of loss. He may also behave aggressively in an attempt to discharge accumulated emotions. Sometimes there are complaints of pain of undetermined source (headache, abdominal pain). Self-esteem may decline. The child loses confidence in his own abilities, which translates into lower school achievement.

Adolescents aged 13-18 are more likely to experience emotional strain, which sometimes leads to reduced self-regulation and even self-aggression. A sense of responsibility for a parent who is left alone may also be born. The young person may be distrustful of other people and the durability of relationships. Chronic fatigue, concentration or sleep problems appear. All these symptoms insidiously affect functioning, marking a permanent mark on the psyche. Skillful support, creating a safe relationship from scratch, can help the child, as well as the parent, to heal. With a sense of responsibility and awareness for yourself and your child, you will more easily accept the new situation.聽

Don't procrastinate if you can't cope on your own. Seek support from psychological counseling centers, family psychotherapists.

You can also try to help your child by enrolling him in a child psychology clinic.

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Sylwia Krasowska, MA - psychologist

The information contained in this article is for general information and educational purposes. They are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is recommended that you consult your doctor or other qualified health care professional for advice on your specific symptoms, ailments or condition.