Age appropriate strategies to help your child cope with divorce or separation

Children experience their parents’ separation/divorce differently throughout the different stages of development. The following are age appropriate suggestions for ways to help your child cope during this challenging period:

Birth to 2 years

At this stage maintaining consistency in your child’s environment is essential. Time spent with parents, siblings, grandparents should not decrease significantly. Try having family members visit the child instead of the child being moved back and forth between different locations. Hug, kiss, play, walk and cuddle with your child as much as possible.

2 to 7 years

In addition to maintaining consistency, more verbal communication is needed at this age. Communicate in simple words with your child that a change will take place. Going into major detail about why this change is taking place is not necessary. However, certain messages should be communicated by both parents such as: “We will always be your mummy and daddy,” “we will always love you,” “this not your fault, this is between mummy and daddy” and “if you ever want to talk about how you feel or have any questions feel free to ask us.” Additionally, let your child know what the arrangements will be once you and your spouse are separated.

7 to 12 years

During these years, try to establish open communication with your child. At this stage, children gradually become more aware of their emotions, they start to detect differences around them. One such difference may be that their friends and/or classmates do or do not have both parents dropping them to school. Your child may experience intense feelings of anger, guilt or sadness. Even though they may be hard for you to see, these are natural responses and children should be told this. It may be invaluable to the child if you “check in” with them. Ask open ended questions such as, “how do you feel about us separating?” “Is there anything I can do to help make this transition better for you?” And as always, try maintaining consistency as much as possible.

12 to 18 years

Two important suggestions for parents with children at this stage:

i)     Let your child cry on your shoulder. However, do not cry on theirs. Children worry and they care about their parents immensely. A natural instinct may be for children to take on adult roles or for parents to tell their children that it is time to be the head of the house. Keep the roles clear for yourself and your child.

ii)     Promote healthy outlets for your child’s emotions. Avoid significant increases in fast food, time on the computer or playing video games. Be aware of experimentation with alcohol and/or smoking. To counteract this, offer to host your child’s friends for games or movie nights, trips to the beach, counselling and of course, keep the lines of communication open.