How to Help Children Ages 6-12 Through Your Divorce
School-age children (ages six 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 parents do not speak negatively about their ex-spouse. That can only serve to confront their child’s own sense of self and identity. The better parents get along after divorce, the easier it is for their children to adjust.
Parents can help minimize the negative effects of divorce on 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.
- You both must stay in the adult and 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.
Above all, it is important to stabilize your children first and make sure they feel they are truly valuable members of your family. Do all you can to make certain that your child knows he is loved, by both parents, and that he is not responsible for the separation.