Protecting Children After Separation and Divorce

Divorce and separation can be very difficult for children, but by remembering a few basic guidelines parents can make their children's lives a lot easier, and in turn make their own lives and relationships with the other parent easier.

Maintain an Atmosphere of Respect

Demonstrate basic respect for the other parent:

  • No Disparagement: Never disparage the other parent in front of the children, or when there is a chance that they might overhear you.

  • Good Communication: Find a way to communicate with the other parent about the children. Some parents manage to communicate in person or by telephone. Some communicate by text message or email. Some use computer software that maintains a record of all contact and communication, and manages the parenting time calendar.

Respect your children, and their need for love, support, and parents who act in their best interest:

  • Provide Stability: Try to keep your children's lives as normal and as continuous as possible. Try to make sure that they have appropriate access to their pets, clothes, favorite toys, friends, and activities during visitation.

  • Your Child is Not a Messenger: Communicate directly with the other parent, or through an appropriate communication tool or adult intermediary. If you need to send a message to the other parent, you can do so in a way that does not involve the children.

  • Your Child is Not a Friend: If you need emotional support or want to unburden yourself, find a friend, family member or counselor to provide you with emotional support. You should support your children's emotional needs, but they should not be placed in a position of supporting yours.

  • Your Child is Not a Spy: It may be tempting to quiz your children about what is happening at the other parent's house, but by doing so you place your children in an untenable position. Your children may slant their answers to try to please you, giving you an inaccurate picture of what is happening at the other parent's home and perhaps causing you unnecessary concern.

  • Child Support: It may not be pleasant to pay child support, but it's important to providing children with stable households and making sure that their needs are met. Child support should be invisible to the children. If you are ordered to pay child support, pay your child support on time and don't complain about it to the children. If the other parent is late with child support, don't complain to your children.

Support Your Child's Relationships

Your child's relationships with you and the other parent are central to your child's life. Your child also most likely has important relationships within both your and the other parent's extended families.

  • Encourage Contact With the Other Parent: Encourage your children to see the other parent, and to communicate with the other parent.

  • Facilitate Contact With the Other Parent: Try to make exchanges as easy as possible. If a child is upset about a visit, you may provide support and listen to your child's feelings, but

  • Remember the Extended Family: Children may have important relationships with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and other family members that should be maintained after their parents separate or divorce.

Care For Your Child

Demonstrate your concern and support for your child:

  • Take Care of Your Child's Emotional Needs: Be aware of your child's emotional state and emotional needs. Provide support and, when appropriate, speak with your spouse about the possibility of counseling.

  • The End of Your Relationship is Not Your Child's Fault: Although your children will have friends whose parents have separated or divorced, and may even understand on an intellectual level that the break-up of their parents' relationship is not their fault, they may still have feelings of responsibility at an emotional level. Make sure that your children understand that they are not responsible for the end of your relationship, or for any negative feelings you may harbor toward their other parent.

  • Hostility Between Parents is Not the Child's Fault: If you argue with the other parent about the child, child support, the parenting time schedule, or any other matter involving the children, you put your child at the center of the conflict.

At the same time, keep in mind that your child will be concerned about you, and that your child does not have the knowledge or experience of an adult.

  • Don't Let Your Child Protect You: After a divorce or separation, sometimes children will try to protect their parents, holding back important information or withholding their own hurt feelings from their parents. Help your children understand that they don't have to protect you, and that you want to provide them with the support that they need.

  • Don't Make Your Child Choose Sides: Avoid statements or conduct that might cause your child to feel that you want them to take sides with you against the other parent.

Take Care of Yourself

You can't take proper care of your children if you aren't taking care of yourself. Don't neglect your own needs.

  • You need to attend to your own personal, medical and psychological care.
  • Make sure that you have the support structure that you need during any emotionally difficult times.
  • If you find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs, get appropriate counseling or treatment before it interferes with your ability to parent.
Copyright © 2016 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Apr 19, 2018.