Raising Emotionally Balanced Children in the Wake of Divorce
by Kim Oliver, Ph.D.
When couples who have decided to divorce come to see me for counseling, the first question they always ask is "how can we get our children through this".
The guilt, pain and sense of loss that couples experience before during and after divorce is often coupled with the fear that their children will be emotionally damaged and will never fully recover.
According to the United States government, more than one million children per year are living through their parents divorce. Although past research focused on the negative outcomes suffered by the children of divorce, especially when those children enter young adulthood, more recent studies find that most children from divorced families are doing as well as children from intact families.
Surely divorce is a crisis in the life of children and their parents. There are emotional risks to children as a result of a divorce but these can be mitigated by something very important in the child's life and that thing is the support and love of their parents. So let's go back to the question I hear most often from divorcing couples "how do we get our children through this"?
Children whose parent's are divorcing do better when they are sufficiently nurtured and supported through the process and beyond by both parents. A good and trusting relationship with both parents helps to prevent some of the emotional problems often associated with children of divorce. Significant access to each parent is also extremely important.
Most importantly, children must be kept out of the middle of parental conflict. Hostility between parents is detrimental to children whether or not their parents are divorced. A highly emotionally charged and hostile divorce complicates a child's adjustment and sense of emotional well-being.
Many parents do try to put their own pain and anger aside for the welfare of their children. Understandably, some parents have significant difficulty managing their emotions during such a painful time. Parents who are struggling to manage their emotions can find support from trusted friends, clergy or a counselor. Families involved in high conflict divorces where there has been long term conflict, infidelity, abandonment or betrayal, need particular support and care in order to shield their children from hostility, cope with strong emotions and return themselves and their children to a place of stability and wholeness. Seeking the professional help may allow these parents to be better equipped to guide their children throughout the process and to shield their children from adult conflict.
Children who are raised during and after a divorce in an environment that is secure and cooperative will learn how to cope with the divorce more quickly and will likely develop into the healthy happy children we'd like them to be. In the end, the children of divorce need the same things that all children need, among these are an atmosphere of emotional and physical safety, appreciation of their need to become the unique individuals they were meant to be, and most of all love.