How Do I Help My Children Adjust to the Separation and/or Divorce?

The good news about separation and divorce is that you can do a great deal to help your children adjust to the changes in their lives. Most children feel better and adjust to these changes if their parents learn as much as they can about how separation affects children and put into action what they learn.

Attending the court's Parents and Children Together (PACT) program is one way to learn how to help your children. Look for other programs in your community. There are also many good books, which you can purchase or borrow from your library. The court's office of Family Court Services has prepared a list of recommended books dealing with various family law issues including helping children with divorce.

The list below is a summary of some of the things that help children adjust to a separation or divorce. This is a general list, and some things may not apply to your situation. (If there has been violence or threats of violence between you and the other parent, consult the court's webpages on Domestic Violence.)

    1) Never fight in front of your children. Children become frightened and sad when they hear their parents fighting. Children frequently say to the court, "Please make my parents stop fighting. Please make them act nice to each other."

    2) Allow your children to love the other parent. Let them keep pictures of the other parent in their room. Allow them to freely express feelings about the other parent. Encourage telephone calls and exchanging letters and/or e-mail with the other parent.

    3) Encourage frequent contact with the other parent. Children do better if they can have lots of time with both parents, as long as both parents provide good care and don't fight when they exchange custody.

    4) If you can't keep from arguing when you see each other, have some one else take the children for the custody exchange, or arrange the exchange at the end of the school day.

    5) Answer your children's questions about the separation in a way that is appropriate to their age.

    6) Read a book about divorce together. Your library or book store will have several for children of different ages.

    7) Present the other parent in a positive light. Remember, your children have a different relationship with their other parent than you have with that person. Your children will be healthier and happy adults if they believe they have two good parents. When you criticize the other parent, you are criticizing one of the two people your children love most.

    8) Keep as many things the same in your children's lives as you can. Keep them in the same school and with the same babysitter if possible.

    9) Allow your children to express their feelings. Children do better if they are allowed to talk about their feelings and if their parents let them know their feelings are normal.

    10) Tell your children's teachers about the divorce. Teachers can help your children through the day at school if they know what's going on.

    11) Keep your children out of adult matters. Children suffer when they are put in the middle between their parents.

    12) Reassure your children that they will be alright. Tell them you love them and you will take care of them. Let them know the divorce is not their fault. Let them know you will be alright, too.

    This material was adapted from "For My Children:  Helping Parents Help Their Kids," by Jane Ellen Shatz, Ph.D., and Alyce LaViolette, M.S.  (A parent education curriculum developed through a California State Access and Visitation Grant.)