Divorce is one of the biggest stressors in a person’s lifetime. For children, especially those who have not developed mature coping strategies, divorce can present serious challenges, which is why helping kids through divorce is crucial. As parents, we often do not know about their unhappy feelings since they are not skilled in expressing themselves. For example, a parent may not know that their child thinks they caused the divorce or separation, or that they think it is their job to take emotional care of their parents.
Adding to the stresses of divorce, kids have other worries, which can include COVID, school disruptions, and things they see on the news. Thus, we have seen troubling jumps in mental health crises including depression, anxiety, and suicide. Schools are unprepared for the sheer volume of troubled children. The good news is, parents can play a large role in helping kids through divorce.
Here are six evidence-based approaches in helping kids through divorce:
If parents learn these and share them with their children, it can ease kids’ fear, stress and anxiety:
1. Learn about the myths many kids believe, such as: they caused the split, they aren’t part of a family anymore, or they have to take care of their parents.
2. Learn how the brain works, where their animal brain prevents their wise brain from weighing in when they are in fight of flight. Several tricks to calm their animal brain work, such as bringing up a happy memory, and taking deep breaths. When kids learn to calm their minds, they can learn and remember in school.
3. Learn that by naming the feelings they are having, kids can learn to tame those feelings. Being with feelings instead of running from them reduces negative emotions that can disrupt their lives.
4. Learn to change their thinking, thus they can change their feelings. Thinking often precedes feelings. For example, thinking about a monster under the bed leads to fear. Kids can be taught to observe their thoughts and let them drift by like clouds. Thinking of a happy memory improves the mood and self-confidence.
Another method is developing an attitude of gratitude. Kids can be taught to think of what things they are grateful for, what relationships they are grateful for, and what about themselves they are grateful for. These methods for changing thinking can have a profound effect on mental wellbeing.
5. Learn how to get themselves out of loyalty binds when parents put them in the middle of their conflicts. Parents often unintentionally stress their kids when they ask them to carry messages, criticize their other parent, quiz them about their other parent’s private life, and complain to them about how their other parent spends money. Children can learn how to use “I” messages to state their feelings when they are caught in loyalty binds.
6. Learn whom to trust and whom to ask for help when they are very stressed.
These strategies in helping kids through divorce are taught in a new online program called Children in Between Online: For Kids. Hosted by kids and a trusted animated alien named Orby, the 2 hour online class teaches kids these strategies. Orby comes from another galaxy and loves to help kids. Parents are encouraged to watch the program with their kids, so they can lean the methods themselves, and support positive changes for their kids.
As the writer and producer of Children in Between Online: For Kids, I believe that the ninety-minute class will be the best time and money you’ve spent during your divorce. We’ve tested the class on hundreds of kids who reported back that they felt better, more secure and less anxious after completing the class.
Additionally, we welcome and appreciate your feedback and ask that you complete the survey at the end.
In closing, as parents, our children are our everything to us, which is why helping kids through divorce is most parents’ biggest priority. This is an easy way to make a huge impact.
Children in Between Online: For kids is a genius idea, and a tool I could have used 14 years ago when I was going through a divorce with two young children. The 1 ½ hour online class, which is narrated by kids and a cute cartoon alien named Orby, is designed to offer comfort and support to children whose parents are going through a divorce, or who are already divorced. I thought the video production was professional, yet had a warmth and simplicity that kids would appreciate.
Topics addressed in the class are: why parents sometimes get divorced (and how it’s not your fault), what feelings you might have and how to cope with them, how to manage stress from your parent’s divorce, and how to ask for help if you need it. It’s heartbreaking to think about children in the wake of a divorce, and this class could be a game changer in soothing kids’ fear, stress, and sadness. Divorce is devastating, but it doesn’t have to be for kids. Sharing this program with them is giving them the gift of help in healing, acceptance and inner-peace, so they can focus on their own growth and quality of life.
– Jackie Pilossoph, Creator and Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling.
Don Gordon, Ph.D is the Executive Director of The Center for Divorce Education, the company that produces Children in Between and other classes to benefit divorced men and women and their children. Dr. Gordon is internationally recognized as one of the top experts in the field of parent/child relationships. For more than three decades his research and work has focused on developing and refining evidence-based family and parenting interventions. He is a past professor at Emory University and is currently an Emeritus professor at Ohio University. Dr. Gordon received his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Alabama.