No matter the circumstances, divorce is a time of mixed emotions and experiences, especially for young children. In a divorced home, successful, cooperative co-parenting demands putting aside anger toward each other to best support the child as a team. Other people to add to your team would be the child’s teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, administrators, or scout leaders.
Enlist help from the child’s teacher and other team members by informing them of what’s going on without going into unnecessary details; this allows everyone to keep an eye on the child and provide insight into a child’s performance and behavior that could be missed by the parents as they go through struggles of their own. However, you must avoid putting these team members in the middle of a divorce or separation just like you avoid putting the child in the middle. They are neutral team members, with the child’s best interest at heart. If you’re unsure of what to say, just be straightforward. “We’ve decided to split, but we’re working to put the children first.”
Tips on supporting young children in a divorced home
If possible, separate early in the summer. While January and February are the most common months for divorce, separating in May/June gives your whole family, especially the child, some time to adjust to the new way of life before going back to school. We know it may not always be possible to time separation, but the start of school, especially if the child will be transferring schools, informing the child about the split in early summer, will help the already stressful start of school go more smoothly.
Speak to your child first
News travels quickly, so your first conversation should be with your child before you tell anyone else at their school, community, or church. Once someone knows, even an administrator, the news can easily spread through the school to your child from their peers and friends, instead of you.
Put aside differences for school events, and parent-teacher conferences
While it’s common to each request communication from the school via email, parents should prioritize attending parent-teacher conferences together, suppressing negativity you feel toward one another, and focusing on the child’s education and performance.
For events like graduations, school productions, and sporting events, both parents should attend and make a commitment to be argument/drama-free during these activities. You don’t have to sit together during these types of events, but it is important that you both still show up.
Create a stable home environment
Especially in a divorced home, children need stability. Even though two homes might be involved, it’s crucial to maintain a predictable, loving, and supportive home environment. Both households should have a clear set of expectations of rules regarding schoolwork, after-school activities, and a plan of how the child will be transitioned between homes.
Help your child tell friends
It’s important for your child to have the support of their peers as well during this time. Some kids are embarrassed, afraid of crying in front of friends or just don’t know how to bring it up. It might help to role-play or discuss together what your child could say. Remove any shame from the topic by allowing the topic of divorce and surrounding topics to be discussed openly in the home, encourage your child to ask questions, and don’t let the divorce or living situation become something that’s never been talked about.
Don’t confide in your child
Your child is not your therapist, marriage counselor, or spy. Don’t let a divorced home become a battlefield. These are complex, adult issues, and your child will have enough trouble sorting through and processing their own feelings related to the divorce, don’t add to the burden by confiding in them about these adult issues.
Encourage them to express their feelings and ask any questions they have, be direct about the changes that are happening, but it’s not appropriate to go into details about why the marriage didn’t work or your frustrations about the divorce proceedings.
You got this
Each child and family situation is different, but with some work, transparency, and a commitment to putting the child first, everyone will make it through this difficult time in your family’s life. Focus on your child’s progress in school, and just remember that this is a learning experience for all of you, so if you don’t get something right the first time, all you can do is your best, and try again tomorrow equipped with what you learned from today.