Family, Heartbreak

What You Can Do As A Heartbroken Parent To Lessen The Effects Of Divorce On Your Children

Photo: unsplash / Derek Owens
What You Can Do As A Heartbroken Parent To Lessen The Effects Of Divorce On Your Children

There are plenty of things parents can do to protect their children from the damaging effects of divorce on children.

You see, children soak up everything they see, feel, and hear.

And parents may believe they are giving their children all the love they need while dealing with divorce. However, they only send a conflicting message when they fail to reconcile their own relationships with their former partners.

RELATED: Why Studies That Say Divorce Is Bad For Kids Are B.S.

Parenthood is not easy, especially when different parents have different parenting styles. And it gets even more complicated while both are coping with divorce.

When parents argue excessively and for too long, it can leave their kids feeling insecure and fearful. Even if it's not the parents' intention to cause harm, the ongoing conflict can threaten a child's sense of safety.

Truth be told, parents forget that children are vulnerable to feeling in the middle between their parents' arguments. High parental conflict can send them into high alert.

As a result, the effects of divorce on children can include difficulty in sleeping and concentrating on school or social activities or being plagued with fear and anxiety about their future.

Many studies show that being raised in a high-conflict divorced family can also cause children to have low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness. It can leave them with the ultimate feeling of rejection.

Many kids internalize the breakup of their families and feel like it's their fault.

Logically, many kids understand their parents' failed marriage didn't have to do with them. Often, parents take great pains to make sure their children understand they aren't to blame for the breakup.

But, kids often experience a disconnect between logic and emotions, leaving them with low self-esteem.

Growing up, a child may see their parents fight constantly, but sleep in the same bed every night. They might have complained about one another, but acted upset when the other went away.

Sometimes, parents don't fight openly in front of children, but tension and anger seethe beneath the surface. These contradictions play a powerful game with a child's head.

When a child is left with unexplained contradictions, they will try to explain the situation to themselves, often coming up with incomplete or incorrect conclusions.

Thus, when kids can't understand the turmoil around them, they tend to internalize this pain and blame themselves.

This is true for children exposed to high conflict in both divorced and intact homes.

Marital conflict can have negative consequences for children whether they have married or divorced parents.

In a longitudinal study spanning over many years, renowned divorce researcher Paul Amato found that conflict in intact families was associated with emotional problems in children.

Amato points out that many of the problems children of divorce face begin during the pre-divorce period since it is a time of increased conflict for most parents.

Thus, an increase in emotional problems experienced by children after divorce may well be due not only to dealing with their parents' divorce but the marital conflict that led up to it.

Learning new skills to protect children from the heartbreak and harmful effects of parental conflict during and after divorce is worth the effort.

According to divorce expert and therapist Gary Direnfeld,

"Not all separations are alike and not all parental separations spell disaster for their children. The social science research advises that the most salient factor determining risk for poor developmental outcomes for children of divorce is the level of conflict between their parents."

Feeling safe and loved is what all children want and deserve — despite the family dynamic.

In some cases, a child's self-esteem can improve after his or her parents' divorce if there's a reduction in conflict and they feel loved and protected.

Parents need to avoid exposing their child to high-conflict that involves the child, physically violent situations or threatening and abusive content.

RELATED: 9 Things Kids With Divorced Parents Desperately Want You To Know

Here are 5 ways to ensure that your divorce doesn't hurt your kids.

1. Use self-control and only let out some of your anger

If you're frustrated or angry at your ex, you don't have to say everything you're thinking. Your children won't benefit from you showing your anger openly to their other parent so be careful what you say in front of them.

Kids don't want to hear negative things about either one of their parents.

2. Avoid name-calling and blameful comments

"You never pick up Kylie on time!"

Instead, say what you want and state it in a positive way such as: "I would appreciate it if you'd be on time picking up Kylie since she worries you're not coming and gets upset when you're late."

3. Resolve conflicts in a positive way

Learn the art of compromise and apologize when you do something wrong.

Being cordial and businesslike is a good place to start. Take a short break if you feel flooded.

4. Keep your children out of the middle

Keep your children out of the middle and don't make them a go-between to avoid loyalty conflicts.

Communicate clearly and directly to your former spouse — not through your child.

5. Develop a parenting plan

Develop a parenting plan that's geared to the level of conflict between you and your ex-spouse. For instance, the higher the conflict, the less flexible the plan.

Discuss hot-button issues such as holidays, finances and problems that may arise with your children's schoolwork or with friends.

Seek professional help if needed such as mediation or counseling if you believe you won't be successful doing this on your own.

As children try to make sense of the world around them, it's important that they are able to predict the behaviors and responses of important people in their lives.

If kids experience a great deal of upheaval and unpredictability, they'll be wary of the world around them.

They won't know what to expect and they'll be unsure of their own actions. Further, parents must continually validate their children's abilities in order for them to feel self-confident and sure of themselves and their place in the world.

If this reinforcement is absent or inconsistent from parents, children won't develop healthy self-esteem.

While it's impossible to avoid conflict completely, parents who learn to control their emotions bestow their children with the gifts of security and self-esteem they'll need to thrive and become resilient adults.

RELATED: 13 Times Co-Parenting With Your Ex May Not Be A Good Idea

Terry Gaspard is a licensed therapist, author, and college instructor. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.