Helping Your Child Adjust After Divorce
By Jen Sauro
You made it. Your divorce is final. You, your ex and your children have been making strides on the new road to a clear life. Whether you have moved to a new home or stayed in your home, things are going to feel and look different.
Many parents have concerns about how to continue to best support their children during this time. The hardest part is done, but your children may still need some reassurances and empathy as everyone navigates this new normal.
Hello, I’m Jen Sauro, a mediator and franchise owner at Fairway Divorce Solutions Niagara. Here I will cover some suggestions for a few easy ways of helping your children adjust to their life after divorce.
Start at Home
If you have moved to a new neighborhood, take your kids out to explore it. Age-appropriate exploration may include checking out the local library, parks, community centres or shopping mall. Go for walks or bike rides around the neighbourhood so that both you and your child become familiar with it. This is also a great way to meet other people who live in your new neighbourhood. It will be especially helpful if your child is starting a new school.
If you did not move, take some time to rediscover your neighbourhood. You can visit a store that you’ve never been to, take your kids to a park that they don’t often go to or sign up for some local activities through the community centre.
Whether you have chosen to stay in your house or if you moved to a new residence, now is a great time to make some small changes to your home. To help your child adjust after divorce, you will want to make them feel safe and secure. The best place to start is in their bedroom.
If you are in a new house, encourage your child to give input for the things they would like to see in their new room. They can choose their new bedding, or maybe a new paint colour. Let them look online or go shopping with you so that they can choose some throw pillows for their bed, or a funky lamp for their desk.
Your household income has likely changed, but there are relatively inexpensive transformations that you can make. There are some great websites that offer furniture and décor at reasonable prices (think wayfair.ca). If you would rather go out and look at items, you could try stores like Home Sense or Ikea. Or even try your local secondhand and thrift stores.
You can find a piece of furniture that just needs a little paint to give it some new life. Even better, you can make it into a special project by having your child help with the new coat of paint.
You have likely heard repeatedly that consistency and routine are important to children, especially during times of transition and change. It’s important to maintain routine as much as possible in your post-divorce world. Things like eating dinner or breakfast together or sitting down to watch your favourite weekly tv show are important now more than ever.
If your regular schedule fell by the wayside during the divorce now is a fantastic time to reintroduce a revised routine, or maybe even start some new ones! Besides routines surrounding mealtimes, there are many other regular activities that your children can help with. Now that you are a single parent, you may appreciate having the kids help you with some of the household chores. You could all go grocery shopping together each week. You get the help of bagging up the groceries and putting them away when you get home.
Your kids get to feel like they are helping with a grown-up chore, and this can lead to some quality time together. Your kids may be enticed to help out by letting them pick the type of cereal, or granola bars for lunch snacks.
Or maybe you and the kids fold the laundry together? Maybe you shovel the driveway together – which would of course lead to making snow angels and building snowmen after. Whatever new chore you introduce to your child, ensure that it is age appropriate and that they can do it alongside you…that’s half the fun!
Mental Health and Well-being
As a parent, you are likely concerned about the impact your divorce had on your child’s mental health and general wellbeing. Below are ways to promote positive mental health for the whole family post-divorce.
There are benefits to counselling for children of all ages. For younger children this might mean that you attend the appointment with them while the counsellor encourages your child to play, draw and talk.
It’s important to let your older children know that what they tell their counsellor is confidential unless they disclose that they are going to hurt themselves or someone else. You can find counsellors through your EFAP, online listings or ask family and friends if they have any recommendations.
Maybe your children don’t need counselling per se but would benefit from spending some time with a trusted adult who isn’t their parent. Possibly a favourite aunt, family friend, teacher, or school counsellor. It’s a great idea to encourage these relationships.
If your child isn’t keen on spending time away from you, perhaps you can invite the trusted adult over to your house for a visit. As we’ve all heard, it takes a village to raise a child. The more trusted adults in your village that can offer support to your children will ensure that they always feel like they have someone to talk to.
Develop New Interests and Hobbies
This is a great time to work with your child to develop new interests. Whether that’s watching a new series or taking up a new sport or exercise program like jogging, yoga or tennis. You could develop a new hobby together like completing puzzles, crocheting or building models. Check out your local leisure guide to see what intro classes are offered or Fairway’s blog on 101 Things to Do with Your Children for some creative ideas.
The goal here is to start something new that you can enjoy together with your child. You are creating new memories that will last a lifetime.
If you haven’t already, this is an excellent time to go online or visit your favourite bookstore and find some books that are aimed at helping children deal with divorce. For older children, you can give them the book and check back with them in a few days.
Try generating a conversation about points in the book that your child agreed with or ones that they didn’t think were accurate. You may consider reading the book first and then you can ask pose specific questions about some of the key topics. Some books to check out include Divorce Is Not The End of the World: Zoe and Evan’s Coping Guide for Kids by Zoe Stern and Now What Do I Do? By Lynn Cassella-Kapusinski.
If you have younger children, you can read the books together. Again, remember to ask question your child questions about the story: “In the story, Billy found some fun activities that he could do with his Dad when he was at his house. What new activity do you think you’d like to try when we are together?” “Julie from the story sometimes felt like she didn’t have anyone to talk to about her parent’s divorce. Do you feel like you have someone you can talk to?” Some recommended books include Two Homes by Claire Masurel and Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families by Marc Brown
Co-Parenting is likely a new experience for you if you are recently divorced. Remember that it is a new experience for your children also. This transition will take time, patience and communication to be successful. Studies have shown that some of the positive effects of co-parenting include growing self confidence and self-esteem in children and reinforcing a strong bond and a healthy attachment to both parents. Below are practical tips that can help make co-parenting a smooth transition.
Kids thrive on routine and want to know where they are supposed to be and when they are supposed to be there. You can help kids with this by creating a calendar that outlines your parenting schedule. Put it on the fridge or hang it up on a bulletin board in your child’s room.
For older children that have access to technology, consider using a shared calendar like google to keep track of the parenting schedule. An added benefit of using technology is that things like extracurricular events, times at friend’s houses, doctor or dentist appointments can also be added. This helps kids plan and will help lessen the anxiety about not knowing where they are supposed to be.
It’s important to communicate directly with your ex-spouse. Don’t use your children to send your messages to your ex-spouse. These days, it is common for divorced parents to communicate via text or email. Remember to keep your messages to the point and factual. If you receive a text from your ex that causes feelings of anger or frustration, take some time before responding. It’s never a good idea to respond in anger. Go for a walk, watch a show or even sleep on it before replying. When children see their parents interacting respectfully and without conflict, it helps them feel confident and secure in their relationships with each parent.
When you child returns from spending time with their other parent ask them sincere questions about their visit. What fun things did they do? Did they eat any of their favourite foods? Allow your child to share the details of their time away from you without them having to worry about hurting your feelings or upsetting you.
If the other parent has moved to a new house, allow your children to show excitement about the new house. Ask them what their room looks like, do they have a favourite room in the house and why is it the favourite? Maybe go together and purchase something that they can keep at the other house (PJ’s, stuffed animal, action figure).
When your children are spending time with you, encourage contact with their other parent like nightly phone calls or face time chats. Remember, you would want this same courtesy when your children are at your ex-spouses’ house.
Divorce can often be a traumatic event in the lives of parents and children. Creating new memories and working to be an effective co-parent can help your children thrive within this new family dynamic.