There are a variety of things parents and other caretakers can do to help kids who are dealing with divorce. This section will explore those techniques, everything from how you include them in the process to different coping projects kids can do that will help them deal with the divorce. Try to implement as many of these ideas as you can.
Help kids deal with divorce by involving them in the process
Children enduring a divorce typically feel helpless, and will struggle against feelings that their life is spinning out of control. An easy way to offer some reprieve from this sense of helplessness is to involve them in the transition process as much as possible. For example, you can…
- Bring them along to pick out decorations or paint for their new rooms.
- Take them along as you go house or apartment shopping and ask for their input.
- Explore the new neighborhood around the new home together, driving around to see what restaurants or stores there are, and perhaps letting them select which ones to try first.
- If you go furniture shopping for the new place, let them help you select items.
- Or involve them in whatever other ways you can think of as you re-establish your lives living apart.
Picking out paint or room decorations may not seem like a big deal, but these things help kids feel a little less helpless and a little more like their opinions and desires really do matter, which can go a long way in helping them deal with the divorce.
Look for ways to give kids control in other aspects of their lives
When children are feeling helpless, any small way you can give them a sense of control over their lives will help them maintain a more positive psychology. Here are some ideas for doing that:
- Let them make small choices in everyday life, such as which restaurant to eat at. Allow them certain days when they get to pick the meals cooked, or even which scenic route to drive on their way to school. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) completely cede control over any of these issues, just find ways to offer them more chances to choose and exert their influence than you normally would.
- Get them something to take care of, such as a special plant or small critter, (not a goldfish, they die too easily), but something that lets them be a caretaker and exert influence over this creature’s life. Some parents might plant a special tree or flowering bush at the new house and have kids take charge of caring for it.
Utilize distractions to help kids deal with divorce
Just as is the case with adults, having outlets to focus on can not only distract children from the turmoil going on in their lives, but focusing on a constructive or creative activity builds self-esteem and helps kids feel better about themselves. Here are some therapeutic distractions you might try:
- Encourage kids to take up gardening. Gardening activities such as caring for a plant or maintaining a special place in the backyard can help children cope with the stress, and time spent outdoors also helps.
- Promote artistic expression. Any type of expressive art is therapeutic, not only because it’s relaxing, but because kids are in control. Having a finished product afterwards that they created on their own is satisfying. So encourage kids to take up whatever artistic hobbies they enjoy.
- Enroll your child in karate, dance lessons, or some other activity they might enjoy, assuming they aren’t already engaging in such.
Encourage kids to keep a diary or divorce journal to deal with divorce
If your kids are old enough to write proficiently, you should encourage them to keep a diary or a journal about what they are experiencing. The process of writing out one’s thoughts is therapeutic in itself, since it lets us confront our anxieties and figure out strategies to cope. So supply kids with a special diary or journal, preferably something compact they can easily carry around. Encourage them to write down anything that comes to mind, and give regular reminders about it to keep them involved. Let them know that it is their choice to decide whether to share these thoughts with you or keep them to themselves. Before bed every night or every few nights, ask them what they wrote in their journal, and whether it’s something they’d like to share by reading to you. It will help promote open dialogue between the two (or three) of you.
You can also use this journal exercise to engage in other therapeutic writing projects:
- Have them write what they might say to a kid they meet in their new neighborhood. This helps get their mind focused on the potential benefits of living in two different places.
- Come up with as many ways as you can think of to stay in touch with both parents. This exercise is meant to calm worries about being without you for periods of time.
- Write a letter or a short story that would help another kid who was dealing with divorce. This is a classic psychological exercise that helps them get in touch with their own coping strategies by teaching these skills to others.
Encourage physical activity
Physical exercise does more than help kids let off steam. Being physically active (running around, playing sports, etc.) for at least 15 to 30 minutes at a time causes biochemical changes in the brain that help kids cope. It releases positive neurotransmitters and helpful proteins that can create benefits for as long as 24 hours afterwards, making physical exercise every bit as good for inducing positive mental states as psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants. So help find ways for kids to stay active.