Divorce is tough on the whole family, but for children, their world can feel like it’s being turned upside down.
You might be surprised by some of the coping strategies kids employ to help them navigate the changes.
Whether it’s spending more time with friends, picking up a hobby, writing in a journal, or even acting out at times, each child finds their own ways to adjust to the new family structure and feel more in control of the situation.
While divorce is never easy, learning how children cope can help parents, teachers and other adults in their lives support them during this challenging time.
Understanding Children’s Reactions to Divorce
Divorce is difficult for everyone involved, but especially for children.
Kids have strong reactions to their parents separating, and it’s important to understand how they may feel to properly support them.
Children often feel sad, upset, and even lonely. They may miss the family dynamic they’re used to and crave stability. Reassure your kids that both parents still love them. Spend one-on-one time with each child and be there for them if they want to talk about their feelings.
Anger and frustration are also common emotions. Kids may act out or seem irritable. Be patient and set clear rules and boundaries. Let your kids express themselves in healthy ways, like exercising, art, music, writing in a journal or talking to a counselor.
Some children blame themselves for the divorce. Explain that they are not at fault. Reiterate that you and your ex splitting up was a grown-up decision and has nothing to do with them. Offer lots of affection and praise to help build their confidence and self-esteem.
The good news is that children are resilient. While the initial reactions may be difficult to deal with, know that with your love and support, they can thrive. The key is maintaining stability and open communication.
If you put your children’s needs first, they will learn to cope and adjust to this new family structure in a healthy way.
Providing Stability and Reassurance
Going through a divorce is tough on kids, but providing stability and reassurance can help them cope.
Make their daily routine as consistent as possible. Keep usual bedtimes, schedules for homework and activities, and rules in place. This helps children feel secure when other parts of their world are changing.
Spend one-on-one time with your child. Do things together you both enjoy, like reading, exercising, cooking, or playing games. This focused time can reassure them that they are loved and a priority.
Listen without judgment when your child wants to talk about the divorce or their feelings. Let them know their concerns and questions are important to you. Provide honest but gentle answers.
Reassure your child that both parents still love them. Explain that the divorce was not their fault – kids often wrongly blame themselves. Tell them the divorce changes the relationship between the parents, not between the parents and child.
Give your child some control over their environment where you can. For example, allow them input on things like where certain belongings go in their two homes or what extracurricular activities they do. This can help combat feelings of loss of control.
Seek professional support from counselors, support groups, or child therapists if needed. Speaking to others in a similar situation can help reduce feelings of isolation or abnormality. A counselor can also provide advice for supporting a child through this difficult transition.
With patience, love, and understanding, you can provide your child stability and reassurance to help them cope with this challenging life change in a healthy way.
Though the road ahead may be bumpy, focusing on what matters – your child’s wellbeing – can help make the journey smoother.
Encouraging Healthy Coping Strategies
Encouraging your child to develop healthy coping strategies can help them build resilience during this difficult life transition. Some positive ways for kids to handle the stress of divorce include:
Talking to others
- Speaking to friends, teachers, or counselors about their feelings can help lift their mood and ease anxiety or sadness.
- Let your child know it’s okay to open up to people they trust.
- Suggest your child calls or writes letters to grandparents, aunts, uncles or older siblings.
- Hearing from family members who care about them can provide comfort.
Journaling thoughts and emotions
- Keeping a diary or journal where they can express emotions through writing, poetry or art is a healthy outlet for inner turmoil.
- Journaling helps gain perspective and release pent-up feelings.
- You might say, “I’ve heard that writing down your feelings can make you feel better. Why don’t you give it a try?”
- Provide an empty notebook for them to use.
Engaging in physical activity
- Exercise releases endorphins that improve mood and act as natural stress relievers.
- Encourage your child to go for walks or bike rides, play sports, do yoga, or dance to music.
- You could suggest, “When I’m upset, going for a jog helps clear my head. Want to go to the park together?”
- Make it a joint activity to show your support.
- Help your child maintain a routine and stick to normal activities like hobbies, clubs, and hanging out with friends.
- This provides stability and distraction from worries.
- Teach the importance of sleeping enough, eating healthy and limiting screen time.
- Self-care builds resilience and optimism.
With your love and encouragement, kids can develop coping strategies to help them thrive despite the challenges of divorce.
By talking to others, expressing themselves, staying active and practicing self-care, children gain the strength and resilience to come out the other side.
Being Alert to Signs of Distress
As a child of divorce, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions.
While divorce is difficult, many children are able to cope and even thrive. However, it’s important to be alert for signs that a child may be struggling.
Changes in behavior or mood
Watch for changes in your child’s usual behavior or mood, such as:
- Acting out or becoming withdrawn
- Having trouble concentrating or grades dropping
- Often feeling sad, anxious, or worried
- Trouble sleeping or eating
These types of changes can indicate your child is having a hard time and may need extra support. Talk to their teacher, doctor, or a counselor.
Expressing intense anger or resentment
It’s normal for kids to feel some anger during divorce, but intense or ongoing anger can be harmful. Some signs to watch for include:
- Blaming one parent for the divorce
- Constantly arguing or being oppositional
- Refusing to spend time with one parent
- Acting aggressively or violently
Counseling or family therapy may help address these feelings. Reassure your child that the divorce is not their fault while also setting clear rules for appropriate behavior.
Some children experience physical issues when stressed or upset, such as:
- Stomachaches, headaches, or other pain
- Bedwetting or loss of other developmental milestones
- Skin rashes or other unexplained symptoms
See your child’s doctor to determine if the issues are related to the stress of the divorce. Additional support or counseling may help relieve symptoms.
The most important thing is providing your child stability, support, and lots of love during this transition. While divorce is difficult, many children are able to cope and even thrive when their needs are met with patience and care.
Staying alert to signs of distress and getting help when needed can help guide your child toward resilience.
Seeking Additional Support if Needed
When going through parental divorce, it’s normal for children to feel a range of difficult emotions.
Some days may be easier than others. If coping with the changes seems overwhelming, don’t hesitate to seek extra support.
Talk to a Counselor
Speaking with a counselor or child psychologist can help make sense of complicated feelings. They are trained to listen and provide guidance for managing stress or anxiety in a healthy way. Counseling may be available through school, places of worship, or community health centers.
Join a Support Group
Connecting with other children in a similar situation can help reduce feelings of isolation. Look for divorce support groups in your area, possibly through local family centers or counseling practices. Sharing stories with peers and learning coping strategies from each other can be very comforting.
Talk to Other Trusted Adults
If speaking with a counselor isn’t an option, open up to other trusted adults like grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, or coaches. Let them know you’re having a difficult time and could use their support. They may be able to provide a listening ear, advice, or help take your mind off of problems for a while.
Take Care of Yourself
Make sure to also engage in regular self-care. Try exercising, spending time with friends, pursuing hobbies, writing in a journal, or practicing relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing.
Taking good care of yourself will boost your resilience and make coping with your parents’ divorce much easier.
Going through parental divorce is challenging, but with the right support system in place, children can emerge stronger. Don’t be afraid to lean on others when you need them.
Talking about your feelings and finding healthy ways of coping will help create stability during this transition. With time and effort, you will adjust to the changes in your family.
So while divorce is difficult, kids are stronger and more resilient than we often give them credit for.
They find ways to adapt to their new normal and cope with the changes, even if they don’t always communicate that to the adults around them. The most important thing is that parents make the effort to understand their experience, validate their feelings, and support them through what can be an emotionally turbulent time.
If you do that, chances are your kids will come out the other side just fine. Divorce is never easy, but with compassion and care, families can heal and children can thrive.