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What Do Children Need Following a Parental Divorce?
By Shannon Cromwell, Extension Associate Professor
Divorce can be a difficult process for both parents and children, so it is important for parents to be aware of the effects of divorce on children. By understanding the needs of children following a divorce, parents can help their children become resilient and emotionally healthy (Clarke-Stewart et al., 2000; Emery, 2006).
Children need reassurance
Children need reassurance from their parents that they are safe and secure. Children handle uncertainty better when parents are honest with them and encouraging words can help to soothe children. It is important to be up-front with children about the changes that they are experiencing and reassure them that the divorce is not their fault (Emery, 2006).
Children need a conflict-free environment
Conflicts between parents create stress for children. Parents should avoid power struggles over money and living arrangements and focus on the children’s best interest. High levels of conflict often force children to choose sides. Parents should avoid putting children in the middle and asking children for information about the other parent, as well as avoid arguing and speaking negatively about the other parent (Emery, 2006; Elam et al., 2019).
Children need positive transitionsPositive transitions between homes help children cope with change. Establishing smooth, routine transition times help children experience less distress and helps them to understand that their parents care about them (Ahrons, 2004).
Children need to be close to both parentsChildren prefer for their parents to live close to each other, so they can spend time with both parents. Distance between parents’ homes impact the amount of time a parent and child can physically see each other. Distance can be especially disturbing to adolescents because they are becoming more independent and want to spend time with their friends. Teens want to see their noncustodial parent, but do not want visits to interrupt their social lives. If parents live far from their children, it is important for them to keep in touch through phone calls, e-mails, or letters (Emery, 2006; Whiteside & Becker, 2000).
Children need rules and routinesWorking around visitation schedules, work schedules, and school schedules can be challenging for parents. However, if rules and routines stay consistent between both households, children receive the same messages from both of their parents. Establishing or strengthening family rituals, customs, and rules is important for children (Ahrons, 2004).
Following a parental divorce, children often have different needs. By allowing children to voice their concerns and share their viewpoints, parents can include children in the process of building a new life, while sustaining a meaningful relationship with both parents.
- Ahrons, C. (2004). We’re still family. Harper Collins.
- Emery, R. E. (2006). The truth about children and divorce: Dealing with the emotions so you and your children can thrive. Penguin Group.
- Clarke-Stewart, K. A., Vandell, D. L., McCartney, K., Owen, M. T., & Booth, C. (2000). Effects of parental separation and divorce on very young children. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(2), 304-326.
- Elam, K. K., Sandler, I., Wolchik, S. A., Tein, J. Y., & Rogers, A. (2019). Latent profiles of postdivorce parenting time, conflict, and quality: Children’s adjustment associations. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(5), 499-510.
- Whitesides, M. F., & Becker, B. J. (2000). Parental factors and the young child’s postdivorce adjustment: A meta-analysis with implications for parenting arrangements. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(5), 5-26.