Helping older children understand & cope with parental divorce
In our post last week, we discussed how divorcing parents can help their toddlers understand and cope with the difficulty of parental divorce. Although toddlers present a unique challenge due to their very limited development, it can also be difficult for parents to know how to help their young children (ages 6 to 12).
Most of the strategies we discussed in our last post will apply to this age group as well, according to family and child development expert Dr. Gail Gross. This includes the importance of minimizing parental conflict, presenting a united co-parenting strategy and fostering a sense of continuity and security by maintaining a consistent schedule and consistent rules.
But there are also some things you should do differently (and some opportunities) if you have a child who is no longer a toddler but not yet a teenager. For starters, Dr. Gross notes, children in this age group are now old enough to understand what divorce is.
This means that parents have an opportunity (and perhaps an obligation) to let their children talk through their feelings as often as they need to. If they have questions, it is important to answer them as honestly as you can in age-appropriate language.
While your children will need structure and consistency, they also need to feel like they have some control over their lives and their environment (because their parents’ divorce may make them feel powerless). Dr. Gross says that allowing your children to make certain decisions can give them that sense of control. This could include decisions about home décor (especially in their rooms) or new family traditions they would like to experience.
Finally, you should stay in communication with other adults in your child’s life; particularly teachers and school administrators. It is often helpful to let them know of any major changes and ask them to keep an eye out for signs of emotional or behavioral problems.
Divorce is difficult for the whole family, regardless of age. You may not be able to protect your kids from sadness and other negative emotions, but you can help them deal with these difficult feelings and work toward a renewed sense of happiness and wellbeing.
Source: The Huffington Post, “How to Help Children Ages 6-12 Through Your Divorce,” Dr. Gail Gross, March 19, 2015