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5 Ways to Protect Your Child’s Mental Health During a Divorce

Going through a divorce is difficult for everyone involved. As the one losing a spouse, you’re undoubtedly dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions, and it can be difficult to focus on anything else.

However, it’s important to remember that your children are also dealing with the effects of your divorce. 

Studies have shown that divorce can have a negative impact on children’s mental health. It often leads to anxiety and depression, and can even cause them to exhibit antisocial behavior. 

While it’s important to focus on your own well-being throughout the divorce process, it’s just as crucial to protect your child’s mental health. Let’s look at a few ways you can help them through this difficult time, so you can both move forward to the next chapter of your lives. 

Be Careful What You Say

Again, you’re dealing with a lot of emotions right now. It might be hard to keep them in check. However, your children aren’t therapists and they don’t need to know every detail of the situation. No matter what you’re dealing with, it’s important to be careful what you say about the divorce

It’s also important to use age-appropriate language to explain things to them. Ideally, both you and your former spouse should talk to your children together. If that isn’t a possibility, consider your children’s stage of life when you’re trying to explain things to them. Reassure them that you’re still there and the divorce isn’t their fault. Their comfort and security should be your top priorities. 

Don’t Bash Your Ex

You might not have very many good things to say about your former spouse. However, they are still your childrens’ parent, and you’ll be a part of their life until your kids are adults. 

With that in mind, it’s important not to speak poorly of them in front of your children. That can create more tension, and it can put your kids in an uncomfortable spot. Your children shouldn’t have to “choose” which parent they like more or where they like spending time. 

They also shouldn’t be messengers. You may not want to have contact with your ex, but using your children to communicate back and forth isn’t healthy for anyone. Find other ways of communicating so you can both be effective co-parents. 

Maintain Consistency

Routine is important for everyone. It’s especially crucial for kids, with benefits including

  • It bonds the family
  • It helps them maintain a healthy schedule
  • It establishes expectations
  • It creates a calmer environment
  • Your child will experience greater independence and more confidence

It can be hard to completely avoid change when you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you have to move out of your marital home, or even to a different town. However, do what you can to keep your children’s routine as normal and consistent as possible. 

Work with your ex to establish a routine that fits everyone’s needs, and try to stick with it. 

In addition to a consistent routine, having consistent boundaries and rules in both households will also help to eliminate confusion and provide more comfort. 

Acknowledge and Legitimize Your Feelings

You already know that you’re dealing with a lot of emotions, so imagine how your kids feel. It’s not uncommon for children dealing with the effects of divorce to go through their own rollercoaster of emotions, including things like

  • Loss of belongingness
  • Guilt
  • Insecurity
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Unfamiliarity

While you should absolutely provide reassurance and show your children that everything will be okay, don’t discount their feelings. Let them vent, and make sure they know they’re being heard. Be willing to answer questions and acknowledge that their feelings are valid. If they seem to be struggling with different ways to express those feelings, consider providing outlets for them. In some cases, it can help to set up an appointment with a counselor or therapist, so your child knows they can open up and that their feelings are understood. 

Don’t Use Your Child As Emotional Support

We touched on it above, but it’s worth repeating – your child isn’t your therapist. 

When you’re dealing with so many negative emotions, it can be tempting to vent to anyone who will listen, including your children. However, that’s not a burden they need to bear when trying to work through their emotions. 

Leaning on your children for emotional support can take away the reassurance your child needs that you are the parent and they are the child. If they feel like they have to “take care” of you, it gets rid of the natural hierarchical relationship and can create security or attachment issues. 

If you’re struggling to get through your divorce or you’re having a hard time moving past it, lean on a support system of friends and family members. Or, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor, yourself. 

There’s no blueprint or ideal plan for dealing with a divorce when kids are involved. However, by prioritizing their mental well-being, you’ll help to shield them from many of the negative effects of divorce, and allow them to experience a happy, healthy, and secure childhood.