Frequently parents who are getting a divorce are worried about the effect on their children. These parents may be preoccupied with their own problems but still realize that they are the most important people in their children's lives.
While parents may be devastated or relieved by the divorce, children are invariably frightened and confused by the threat to their security. Some parents feel so hurt or overwhelmed by the divorce that they may turn to the child for comfort or direction. Divorce can be misinterpreted by children unless parents tell them what is happening, how they are involved and not involved and what will happen to them.
Children often believe they have caused the conflict between their mother and father. Many children assume the responsibility for bringing their parents back together, sometimes by sacrificing themselves. Vulnerability to both physical and mental illnesses can originate in the traumatic loss of one or both parents through divorce. With care and attention, however, a family's strengths can be mobilized during a divorce, and children can be helped to deal constructively with the resolution of parental conflict.
Parents should be aware if there are signs of persistent stress in their child or children. These may include loss of motivation for school, or for making friends or even for having fun. Other warning signs include sleeping too much or too little, or being unusually rebellious and argumentative within the family.
Children need to know that their mother and father will still be their parents even though the marriage is ending and the parents won't live together. Long custody disputes or pressure on a child to "choose sides" can be particularly harmful for the youngster and can add to the damage of the divorce.
Parents' ongoing commitment to the child's well-being is vital. If a child shows signs of stress, the School Social Worker can discuss your situation in confidence and help you access appropriate resources in the community to help your child.
An excellent resource for families affected by divorce is Families in Transition. (Click here to visit their Website.)
CHILDREN'S DAMAGE CONTROL PLAN
By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.
In my last column, I proposed that divorcing or divorced parents develop a plan for protecting their children from the emotional and mental damage done to children during and after a divorce.
The number one priority for parents is the protection and nurturing of their children. That priority does not change when parents separate or divorce. Most divorcing parents are so focused on the loss of the marital relationship that they forget their number one responsibility...to protect their children from the damage of the divorcing process. Here are 16 practical suggestions aimed at minimizing the damage done to children through divorce...a kind of damage-control plan.
- Exchange medical, dental, child care, and school records. Obtain duplicate school notices and provide the non-custodial parent with advanced notice of school and extra-curricular activities, performances, and parenting events.
- Encourage and enable the non-custodial parent to talk to doctors, dentists, day-care and school personnel, and advise such professionals and institutions that they need to communicate with the non-custodial parent concerning the child's welfare, development, and learning.
- Make certain children are not overhearing any discussion of differences that inevitably arise between the parents.
- Encourage and enable the non-custodial parent's access to the child, thereby not limiting the child's access to the non-custodial parent.
- Do not undermine or degrade the non-custodial parent when talking with the children. Avoid creating an atmosphere of unwarranted suspicion and accusation regarding the conduct of the non-custodial parent.
- Inform the non-custodial parent about concerns, progress, problems, and developments regarding the children as they develop and discuss the same.
- Whenever possible, confer ahead of time with the non-custodial parent before major decisions are made that are relevant to, or impact, the children's lives.
- Accommodate the non-custodial parent, by making reasonable flexible adjustments and alternate arrangements as to work schedules, school schedules, vacations, etc. Afford the non-custodial parent equal status and participation giving reasonable involvement and participation to the non-custodial parent's relatives as well. A child keeps his/her grandparents too.
- Where appropriate, use mediation, conferences or other procedures, to aid the parents in adjusting to new developments, circumstances and lifestyles.
- Provide the non-custodial parent with reasonable advance notices of sicknesses, requests for changes, to let the non-custodial parent know, in advance, if the parent or the children will be late, or unable to exercise scheduled parenting time.
- Exchange work and home phone numbers between parents and encourage telephone communication between the children and the non-custodial parent, as well as all grandparents.
- By words and phrases, strive to foster within the child a high level of esteem, loyalty and affection for the non-custodial parent, regardless of your own feelings, thoughts and opinions. Eventually, the child will form their own feelings and attitudes based upon contact with the non-custodial parent.
- Do not initiate or encourage anyone other than the father or mother to be designated as "father," "dad," "mother," or "mom."
- Give confidence and affirmative recognition to step-family situations as being a living household with a biological parent and a step-parent.
- Alternate, splitting or sharing holidays, family celebrations, vacations, and birthdays.
- Where appropriate to submitting bills to insurers, exchange bills promptly, and submit the bills promptly to the insurer.
Certainly our children deserve to be protected as much as possible from the damaging effects of divorce. Generate a written plan containing the above suggestions. Then, follow the plan! By doing so, you insure damage control of your children.
Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D. has 30+ years experience as a Life Coach and Licensed Psychologist.