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5 Ways to Protect Children During Divorce

11/25/2013 05:10 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

How will divorce impact your children? This question keeps parents awake at night at all stages of the divorce process. Fear of harming your children might have even been a reason you stayed in an unhappy marriage for longer than you wanted to. Wondering what is best for your kids and navigating the optimal way to get them through the transition might feel like a constant struggle. During this time, there are concrete ways to minimize negative impacts divorce might have on your kids and to make the transition more positive.

(1) Try an amicable alternative to litigation

Choosing to mediate or take a collaborative approach will decrease contentiousness and will likely make the process faster, meaning your children will be exposed to less acrimony and uncertainty.

The traditional litigation system is inherently adversarial and pits you and your spouse against each other from the start. Hiring your own lawyer to understand your rights is important, but opting to mediate will allow you and your ex to better focus on co-parenting. You can develop a plan that you mutually agree on, rather than leaving it up to the court to decide.

As much as you might hate your ex, the litigation system is not a good avenue to punish them or take revenge. Rather, choosing to litigate when it isn't necessary drags out the process and makes it more expensive -- both of these factors will be worse for your kids. If you can put being parents first, and come together to make a parenting plan through mediation, your children will have a quicker and smoother transition to their new reality.

(2) Insulate your children from the drama

Adjusting to life in two separate households can be very difficult for children. When they are with you, you can help them by focusing on having fun together and doing the activities they love, rather than dwelling on the divorce or pushing for details about their "other home."

Don't let your children see you fight, and don't use them as messengers to your ex. Never speak badly about your ex to your children. It will only put enormous stress on them and will not benefit your relationship or your child's well-being.

(3) Invest in a good therapist (or two!)

Soliciting the help of a therapist for your children could make a world of difference. It will give them a neutral party to speak openly with about their feelings and work through any grief, resentment, or guilt.

Seeing a therapist yourself will also help you deal with the inevitable emotions you will face as you go through the roller coaster of the divorce process. Having a therapist as an outlet will make it easier to avoid the potential pitfall of speaking to your children too much about negative feelings you're harboring towards your ex or the divorce in general.

(4) Take care of yourself

Make time to spoil yourself. You're stressed out, and that can affect your ability to be a great parent and support system for your children. If the kids are at your ex's house, have a girl's night, get a massage, or simply enjoy some tranquility. You'll have more energy and feel more positive around your kids, leaving you ready to take full advantage of your time together.

(5) Constantly communicate: the divorce is NOT their fault!

This is the most important point, and it cannot be overstated. You might think it's obvious that they aren't to blame, but children often internalize feelings of guilt around divorce, assuming they must be the cause. Reinforce the idea that both parents love them and they should maintain strong relationships with both -- the problems are between parents, and kids are not responsible.