Children tend to think of their families as their whole world, at least until roughly middle-school age. The family home is usually their safe space, where they can express themselves without fear of judgment and receive the support they need to thrive.
All of that security and stability may seem to disappear in an instant when parents announce that they intend to separate and divorce. It can be hard for young children to adjust to the new family circumstances, and their emotional struggles often manifest in emotional disturbances, behavioral issues and academic challenges.
Thankfully, parents are often able to minimize how stressful this transition is for the children by keeping them the focal point of the co-parenting arrangement. How can parents help protect their children from the stress they experience during a divorce?
Cooperate, rather than fight
Divorce is often an adversarial process that pits parents against each other. This approach can lead to a lot of animosity which can spill over and affect the children. Children who hear parents talking poorly about one another or who witness frequent fights may have a harder time adapting to the divorce and also expressing themselves in a healthy manner about the changes to their family situation.
Keep things consistent
Children thrive on routine, especially when they are young or if they have special needs. If parents can keep the rules and schedule as similar as possible across both households and from week to week, that structure will benefit the whole family. It will reduce the friction between the parents, and it will let the children easily understand what the adults expect from them.
Have a system in place to address conflict
Eventually, one of the children will want to sign up for football or get a cell phone a year before the parents agreed it was appropriate. The parents may then find themselves disagreeing intensely about an important decision that affects their children. It will be impossible for adults to preemptively address every possible source of conflict in a parenting plan, so many parents now include conflict-resolution rules, such as attending mediation or working with a counselor if there is a system in place to settle what seems like insurmountable disagreements, the parents can continue to insulate the children from the conflict they experience and present a unified front when they finally resolve the matter.
Although the changes involved in a co-parenting relationship are a challenge, parents can make it work when they remember that they should always act in the best interests of their children rather than letting their short-term emotional gratification determine what they do. Putting together a robust co-parenting plan and committing to cooperative parenting can help divorcing or separating parents handle this process as gracefully as possible.