School-age children ages 6 through 12 can be highly impacted by divorce. Children of this age group are trying to integrate their parents' separation. This can be only done in relation to their own stage of development. It is most important at this time that you do not speak negatively about your ex-spouse. That can only serve to confront your child's own sense of self and identity. The better you and your ex can get along after divorce, the easier it is for your children to adjust.
You can help minimize the negative effects of divorce on children in this age group by working together, as a team, on the following:
- Ensure a stable and consistent visitation schedule. This gives your child a structure that can create security.
- Do not create conflict during visitation exchanges.
- Do not burden your children with your own emotional problems. If necessary, see a counselor, but don't stress your child.
- Maintain communication with teachers and school personnel. Partner with your child's school counselor and teachers by letting them know what is happening. This way, they can help keep an eye out for, and alert you to, unusual behavior, such as missing schoolwork, not paying attention in class or aggressive behavior.
- Know your child's history. If your child has problems with stress, it will be more difficult for him to adapt to separation. This child needs good parenting from both parents, which includes safety, love, nurturing, meeting needs and understanding.
- Age-appropriate communication is paramount. Be open with your child and answer his questions with as much gentle honesty as you can. However, don't put your child in a loyalty double-bind, and don't question him about your ex.
- Allow your children to have a voice in the day-to-day decisions. This can include helping to decide on the new sleeping arrangements, home décor such as sheets, blankets, pillows and bedspreads and where to go on Spring Break. This also means allowing your children to have a voice in creating new family traditions. When parents divorce, children often feel out of control because they didn't have a say or any options in the decision to divorce. These small experiences of choice help your children feel invested in their new family.
- Finally, use my Empathic Process. The Empathic Process is an approach I developed for parents and children to communicate in a safe and open space. It teaches children how to talk to their parents about their feelings, while parents actively listen without defense. Then parents get a chance to speak. Ultimately, parents and children speak together solving their problem, by investing each participant in the solution. This undefended experience creates a safe space in which parent and child can return when needed.