Many parents who divorce believe the separation damages their child permanently. But any possible problems with your child following divorce are not due to separation from one parent. Rather, recent research indicates that your child’s adjustment following parental divorce is dependent on the situation existing after the divorce. Fortunately, parents have control over many of the post-divorce factors that may affect your child’s adjustment.
If you are divorcing or divorced, below are some recommendations that should help limit the unhealthy effects on your child:
- Limit the changes due to the divorce
Try to have your child continue to live at the same house and attend the same schools, activities, etc. Also, maintain consistency in your child’s standard of living. This can be critical to your child’s adjustment. For this reason, regular child support payments are a must.
- Do not argue or fight with your ex-spouse in your child’s presence
Fighting between parents can cause severe problems in children. Therefore, this is the most important issue related to your child’s adjustment following divorce. The amount of parental conflict over visitation, child support payments, etc., that your child witnesses following divorce is directly related to your child’s level of adjustment.
- Consistent discipline is extremely important
Both parents should use similar, age-appropriate discipline techniques with their child. Limits on what is and what is not acceptable behavior for your child should also be consistent between the two homes.
- Never use your child as a messenger
Your child should not be asked to communicate messages such as "Tell your dad that he is late with the child support payment." This type of parental game is very harmful to your child.
- Do not use your children as spies
Do not ask your child questions about the other parent’s life. For example, do not ask questions about whom the other parent is dating.
- Do not use your child as an ally in parental battles
Always avoid bringing your child into battles with your ex-spouse. Trying to get your child to take sides will usually result in worsening your child’s relationship with both of you.
- Do not put down the other parent in front of your child
Remember that your ex-spouse, no matter how much anger you feel toward him or her, is still your child’s parent. It is important for your child’s social and emotional development to have a loving relationship with both of you.
- Do not burden your child with personal fears and concerns
Unfortunately, many divorced parents turn to their children for support regarding emotional (specifically anger) and financial worries. This almost always has a negative impact on children and adolescents because they are rarely capable of handling such stress without harmful effects. Your child will have enough difficulty with his or her own adjustment without the added burden of your problems.
- Regular visitation is very important
A consistent pattern of frequent visits with the non-custodial parent and grandparents when appropriate is very important to your child’s adjustment. Frequent cancellations, long periods of no contact, and infrequent visitation schedules will have a detrimental effect on your child’s self-esteem.
- S.M.I.L.E. Program: A program for separating/divorcing parents with minor children
- Sesame Street Divorce Toolkit
Written by Blake Lancaster, PhD
Updated March 2019