The Kids Are (Not) Alright: Divorce, Children, Mental Health, and Trauma

Whether you’re contemplating divorce or already in the process, your primary concern should be your children and how this will affect them.

children and divorce: angry child

Many couples wonder if they should stay together for the kids, so you aren’t alone in this. But even when divorce needs to happen, you can help your kids through the process. According to researchers at the Canadian Paediatric Society, kids with parents who are aware of the possible psychological impact of divorce, and help their kids cope, will have fewer mental health issues.

What You Need to Know About Divorce, Children, and Mental Health

Impact of Divorce on Children’s Mental Health

Research does show that a separation or divorce is associated with an increased risk of child and adolescent adjustment and mental health problems, including:
  • Academic issues, including lower grades and higher dropout rates;
  • Conduct issues;
  • Risk-taking behavior such as alcohol and substance abuse;
  • Depression; and
  • Anxiety.
But it’s important to remember that most children are resilient and will not suffer any serious mental health issues. While all children may experience sadness and worry about family gatherings or events, you can support them through this stressful time.

The Kids Are Alright: How to Help Your Child Cope with Divorce

The good news is that you can help reduce the possible psychological effects of divorce on your children.

1. Make your child feel safe and secure.

During a separation or divorce, children often lose daily contact with one of their parents. Younger kids may not understand this separation and fear that a parent will leave them. By making sure your children feel safe and secure, you can help ease fears of abandonment and insecurity.

2. Keep a healthy relationship with your child.

Healthy parent-child relationships can lead to better self-esteem and academic performance in kids during and after a divorce. So, keep a positive and warm relationship with your kids. It’s going to be stressful for everyone, but keeping an affirming and encouraging relationship will help everyone in the end.

3. Discipline consistently.

During a divorce, it can be tempting to let behavior, homework, and attitudes slide. After all, it’s a hard time for everyone. But research shows that keeping discipline consistent can help avoid academic and behavioral problems in kids.

4. Don’t put the kids in the middle.

Never put the kids in the middle of your co-parenting conflicts or ask them to act as a go-between. Asking kids to choose a favorite is never appropriate, and don’t bad mouth your co-parent to your children. Kids are more likely to experience depression and anxiety if they feel caught in the middle of your conflict.

5. Co-parent peacefully.

Even minor tension between co-parents can make your children anxious. Screaming and overt hostility are even worse. One of the most important things you can do to help your children through a divorce is peacefully co-parenting. If you and your ex struggle to co-parent without conflict, counseling can help.

6. Monitor your teens.

It can be hard to know what’s happening in the mind of a teen, but adolescents are more likely to have behavior problems after a divorce. Be sure you know who they’re spending their time with and what they’re doing. Keep lines of communication open as much as possible and let them know you’re there to listen without judgment.

7. Empower your kids.

Let your children know that you believe they have the strength and resiliency to adapt and handle all these big changes. Kids who doubt their ability to cope with change are more likely to experience mental health issues.

8. Teach your child coping skills.

Kids with coping strategies and problem-solving skills cope better during a divorce. By helping them handle their feelings, frustrations, and behaviors in a healthy way, you can help your kids adapt. If your child is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues during a divorce, seek professional help. Ask your pediatrician for a referral for talk therapy or other supportive services. Your entire family can benefit from learning healthy coping and communication skills.

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