People know that divorce will be traumatic for their children – at least to some degree – and so many they tell themselves that it is better to stay unless things get worse. However, research into the psychological impact of divorce and struggling marriages makes it clear that a hostile home environment is toxic regardless of a child’s parents’ marital status.
If the adults in a family fight with each other frequently, the children in the family may experience intense stress even if the parents remain married. The opposite is also true. It is fully possible for parents to divorce while working cooperatively to minimize the negative impact on the children. These are some of the ways that parents can reduce how difficult divorce may ultimately prove to be when it comes to their kids.
Avoid involving the children in conflict
The disputes between parents are often the most stressful aspect of a divorce. Children who have to hear their parents fighting in person or screaming at each other on the phone may have a hard time handling that stress. Parents should make every feasible effort to avoid open conflict in front of the children. They should also avoid speaking negatively about one another in front of their children whenever possible.
Helping the children process their emotions
Parents sometimes become so fixated on managing their own emotions that they don’t stop to think about how their children feel. Even if there have not yet been behavioral issues or angry outbursts, the children have likely experienced intense emotions related to their parents’ divorce. Helping the children put a name to the feelings they experienced and giving them space to express those emotions can help them better learn to cope with negative feelings. In some cases, support groups or counseling can provide the space that the children need.
Keeping things as consistent as possible
All of the changes that come with divorce can drastically increase the child’s stress level and contribute to their difficulty adjusting. If the children continue to attend the same school and live in the same neighborhood, they will have the same routine and support network that they currently know. Having the same rules and expectations at both houses will also make it easier for them to maintain the right grades and consistently meet their parents’ expectations regarding their behavior.
The best-case scenario for divorcing parents with young children is one in which they fully cooperate with each other. Putting the needs of the children above personal feelings can lead to a better long-term outcome for the entire family during and post-divorce.