We all know that divorce can be stressful, but what many parents may not realize is that it can be stressful and painful for their children as well. Indeed, research consistently shows that divorce negatively impacts the mental health of children, leading to depression and anxiety.
However, just because these negative mental health effects are common does not mean they have to occur. There are things you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse can do to mitigate the negative divorce effects.
Reassurance and support
Both parents must reassure the kids and provide support throughout the divorce. Make sure the kids know that the divorce has nothing to do with them, and that both parents love them unconditionally. Your kids will likely feel like it is their fault, angry about the divorce or even feel rejected by you and your spouse. They may even think they are losing one or both of their parents.
In the most age-appropriate way possible, explain why the divorce is best for the family and what it means for the family. Listen to their concerns, ask about their feelings and address them. Do not judge them. Do not criticize them. Use affirming language, hugs and kisses. Your goal should be to make sure they are as comfortable as possible with the process and what is happening.
Maintain your co-parenting relationship
In addition to making sure your kids know that the divorce is not their fault, encourage them to maintain their positive relationship with the other parent. Respect parenting agreements, and both parents should keep your kids’ schedules consistent and predictable. Maintain their routines. Of course, avoid arguing in front of the kids, using the kids as messengers or spies and never speak ill of your ex. This will help keep a healthy relationship with both parents, which is another key to a healthy divorce.
The first type of support is professional support. Even if you think your kids may not need it, get professional mental health support for your kids as a prophylactic against potential divorce related mental health issues.
Signs of mental health effects include depression, anger, anxiety and social and familial withdrawal. Other signs include changes in their hygiene habits, excessive sleeping or not sleeping at all and changes to their appetite. You may also notice a decline in their school attendance, academic performance, behavior and even substance abuse or self-harm.
Another option is joining a support group where your kids can meet other kids going through divorce. These groups can provide supportive environments and help kids work through issues with the help of a professional without the high cost.