Divorce is one of the largest stresses a child may face. With US divorce rates at nearly 50%, there’s a high percentage of children who need extra support around this. We’ll share four different ways kids will likely experience this, their unique needs, and what you can do to support them.
Perception is Their Reality
Kids of different ages experience the world differently. As their brains develop, they develop social skills and advanced learning, and they will interpret things differently.
Regardless of this – what they feel at their age is very real to them and may be different how we perceive situations. They don’t yet have the coping skills and cognitive abilities we have.
When dealing with divorce, it’s important to remember the special needs of each age group, and how to best love them through this.
Some children are so young when their parents’ divorce that they don’t ever remember them being together. Others are old enough to always remember times when parents were together. They will recall what they were doing when they found out about the divorce and that may be a defining life moment for them.
In addition to their age, all kids learn differently. Please keep this in mind when talking to your kiddos. For some children it’s as simple as explaining dad/mom won’t be living in the same house with them all the time. For others it is viewed as a complete world change. Some may need drawings or to watch a movie with you about divorce.
They will all have questions, and may ask in non-conventional ways, as they process their loss and change. Do your best to answer directly and kindly, and always assure them that this change is not their fault. If they are upset, do not take it personally, but rather confirm you understand that it is difficult, and that you love them.
Understanding the feelings of your children and how they relate to a divorce is extremely important. Here’s a quick guide for four age groups. We go over this in more depth in our Divorced Dad’s Intensive.
Very young children can understand the emotions of people, even if they cannot talk. They can often identify issues such as stress, tension, and they know when their parents are upset.
As a result of this their own behaviors may change. They may cling to one or both of their parents. They may not want to go to strangers. Temper tantrums as well as crying are common. A young child may exhibit changes in their eating and sleeping patterns as well.
Keeping routines as consistent as possible – bedtimes, mealtimes, etc. You may want to keep a notebook to share between houses with observations. Allow them to take a favorite thing (or 3) between houses.
Children from about three years of age to around five will be able to verbalize some questions about the divorce. They will often notice that the other person isn’t around like they used to be. They may pose questions such as why the other parent doesn’t go to the park with them or why they live someplace else.
Answer honestly and openly, ask how they feel about it, and ask if they have any ideas how to make them feel special. If you notice changes in eating, sleeping, or bathroom habits – these may be early indicators of stress.
Children that are from the age of six to about eleven will likely know someone who has divorced parents. They will know what the term means. However, that doesn’t mean they are going to readily accept it. Be ready for some changes in behavior as well as some very tough questions.
Displays of anger are very common with this age group as the children are simply overwhelmed by their emotions. They may lack the skills to effectively be able to handle what has been taking place. Do your best to get them to talk about it even if they aren’t sure what they are feeling or why. Turn up your tolerance to be aware that they are doing the best they know how.
You can also use drawing, acting, building (Legos, clay) or other ways to communicate with them.
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Older children who are from twelve and up often understand more about divorce than any other age group. They may blame themselves or attempt to find more detailed answers as to what was taking place. Chances are that this older age group was aware of some issues in the marriage before the announcement of the divorce entered the picture.
It is very common for children in this age group to be angry at one parent and to want to be a caregiver for the other. Do your best to get your child to see both parents as equals. If you can offer a united front as far as the divorce and caring for the children though it will be easier for them. Children don’t need to be your confidante when it comes to the divorce. Turn to another adult for someone to listen or to a professional counselor. Never ask your child to report on the other parent.
Crank Up the Empathy
Children of various ages will deal with divorce differently and parents need to be aware of it. This is going to be a huge change for them and may be overwhelming. It may take them awhile to identify with these intense feelings. Do your very best as adults to be there for them, validate their feelings and work together for a positive future.
How you approach things with your children during the divorce process will affect them for the rest of their lives. You will demonstrate problem solving, collaboration, creativity and support by your actions.
For the sake of your kids, do your best to have a relationship with your ex on some level. Even if it is nothing more than a hello and goodbye when you exchange the children, the kids will notice it. Refrain from ever bad-mouthing the other parent in front of your kids. This only hurts them.
With this guide, a kind heart, and positive intent, you can you your kiddos navigate through this change, and continue to have a successful life.
You’ve got this!
When you are divorced, your kids go through many new transitions. They now have two households, routines, environments, and more distinct parenting styles. At times, they may even express that they don’t want to go to your ex (during their parenting time).
You may be upset with your ex for a long list of issues. You may also be tempted to help your kiddo build up their case for not going. For your kid’s sake, resist this temptation. Bad-mouthing the other parent, in front of your kids, is a major cause of trauma for them. Please let your kids love you both. It doesn’t take away from your great parenting.
Unless your child is truly facing neglect or abuse, you need to encourage a smooth transition to the other parent. Here are six ideas to make that easier.
Turn up the empathy.
Understand why your child feels this way. Don’t try and fix anything, just listen. Let them voice their concern and make sure they know you heard them. You don’t have to agree – you are just confirming they are heard. This also is not information to harass your ex with or to “prove your case”. You are validating your child’s feelings here and serving them. You can also let your child draw a picture – let them get their feelings out and don’t take any of this personally.
Do your best to put on a good front and not let any anxiety show. If your children feel that you aren’t okay with them going to see their other parent, then they will echo your emotion, which is not good for them. Think about positives for them with the other parent – toys, activities, pets – whatever make sense for your situation. If you know things that are planned for that time, then remind them so they have something great to look forward to.
Keep plans to yourself about what you are doing while the children are gone. If they feel like you are doing something fun without them, they may not want to go see their other parent or feel like they are missing out. If they ask you what you will be doing let them know the basic things such as cleaning, working, reading a book, those types of things that they see you take part in all the time. Also, make sure not to say in front of them anything like “oh I can’t do that, because I have my kids then.” If they think you are missing out because of them, it can be detrimental to their self-esteem.
Allow transition items.
Let your child take items to the other parent’s home. This can be pictures, games, a blanket, or even a stuffed animal to sleep with. Too many parents have set limits that what is at their home or need to remain. Let them take what they want to help them transition easier. If a child forgets something at the ex’s house, let them know this is okay.
Provide visuals for your kids.
If you have set days where you and your ex trade off the children, let your kids know these details. For a visual, you can let them help to mark the days on the calendar that they will be with each parent. This will make it less confusing for them and give them some certainty and predictability. Remember they are kids and don’t yet have adult organization skills.
Help your child to prepare for being with the other parent. You can give them gentle reminders such as telling them that tomorrow they will be going with their mom or their dad. You can also let them know a couple hours before the transition will take place. Try to have a mutual agreement with your ex that the children can call either parent when they want to. This way you can remind them they can give you a call later to tell you how they are doing.
Sometimes it can be difficult to encourage your children to go with the other parent. Using empathy to hear them and have them feel understood will help.
Some children only have anxiety when they are going from one parent to the other. Others experience it with both exchanges, as it is the change that bothers them. No matter when it happens, it is normal and okay for your kiddo to feel this way.
Divorce isn’t easy on kids, and they need the love and support of both parents to get them through it. Remember how important it is for a child to know both parents. If you can, you can even do a simple affirmation to your kiddo like “your Mom is a good Mom and loves you” – or whatever comes naturally. Remember, you are putting their best interests – and future – first.
You’ve got this.
Happy New Year!
Did you make a resolution to be healthier in 2020?
According to Parade Magazine, six of the top ten resolutions made are for health, so you are not alone! Over 100 million Americans make the same commitment.
The first step? Make it easy on yourself and just start.
Seek to to feel a little healthier, look a little better and put a bit of a spring in your step. This is easier to achieve and will set you on a path to continued success.
Here are six easy hacks to improve your well being in 2020. Making these changes can give you the energy and the ability you need to be the best Dad you can. Here's to the health of you and your kiddos!
Recent studies suggest that swapping all your drinks for water can make huge differences to your energy levels, your weight loss and even your mental focus. The reason for this is not only that you’ll be putting fewer empty calories into your body, but also that you’ll be increasing your metabolism to burn fat at a faster and more efficient rate.
If you want more info, consider this article from Healthline.
What could be easier than lying in bed longer? Okay, that's not exactly how it works for busy Dads, but stay with us here for just a moment.
Proper sleep is one of the very best ways to burn more calories. Adequate rest will also help you wake up more refreshed and rejuvenated, ready for your adventures as a Dad!
The earlier you can go to bed, the more restful, non-REM sleep you will have. Yes, that downtime after your kids go to sleep is great - and studies recommend going to bed as early as you can.
Check out this Time Magazine article for more info.
You can burn a huge number of additional calories by walking to and from work, or just getting off your bus a stop later. This will not only burn calories but also help you to increase your physical fitness and to improve your resting heart rate. A lower resting heart rate means that you’ll feel calmer and less stressed and will reduce your chances of developing heart disease and other serious issues.
Even standing and walking around for 20 minutes can make a giant difference in your health. Do it with your kids and make a game of it!
This NPR article shares even more details of how this works for your health.
The stresses of being a Rad Dad can make us anxious, tense, and worried. Finances, parenting time, how to handle snow days and “early release” days is difficult. The compound of this can result is health issues for us and decision making that can be flawed.
The good news? Just 5-10 minutes of basic meditation has proven health benefits. Letting go of everything for a short time, practicing deep relaxed breathing, and being open to positive outcomes (at least as a possibility) is an amazing boost to your health!
This Mayo Clinic article gives you more details on how to accomplish this.
This one is fun and can even involve you growing these with your kids. Microgreens are seedlings of vegetables, and studies have shown them to have up to 40x the nutrient load of conventional vegetables. So, a small handful of microgreens can be the same as many pounds of broccoli.
What’s better, kids love them, and they taste great. While most grocery stores have these now, you can grow them easily (inside or out) and enjoy them. You may also find a local urban farmer who grows them (check Google and Facebook).
Check out this Medical New Today article for more details.
Listen to what your kids say – sad, happy or whatever – and let them know you heard and understood them. For example, if your kiddos say they are sad because someone didn’t sit with them at lunch, say something like “Wow, I could understand how that would be hard. Did that make you sad or angry?” In addition to helping you and your kid connect, and experience calm, this models coping skills for your kid.
Dads who do this regularly have told us that they find themselves calming down too. As natural do-ers, we often want to fix things or take action. With feelings of our kids, the best action to take is to actively listen, understand, and echo back to them so they know you got it.
You can learn about the evidence-based approach from Think:Kids here.
After a divorce one of the parents may relocate. They may need to get away from the place that holds so many memories for them or for a job. They may relocate to have the assistance of friends and family.
While this is traumatic and tough, It is still possible to be a quality parent when you live far away from your children. Make sure they understand you didn’t move to get away from them. They will need to know this from you. Don’t assume they know it because too many children do end up blaming themselves for such factors – and you may need to tell them several times in different ways.
Let your children know where you will be moving to and why. Let them know how they can get int contact with you. Make “dates” to video conference with them. Consider getting an Amazon, Google, or Microsoft device that allows easy “drop ins” to chat and see each other. This way they won’t feel abandoned in anyway. If there is a time change between where you live and where they live, make sure they know about that too. This way they will have the best chances of getting in touch with you.
Do all you can to stay connected to your children. They should feel like they can call you any time of the day or the night. They should have your cell phone number and email. You may want to consider writing them a letter every week and providing them with prepaid envelopes so they can do the same. Do your best to be in contact with them at least every couple of days, even if it is only to talk (and listen) for a few minutes.
Take some time to stay interested in what your children are doing. Find out what is going on at school. and stay in touch with school staff weekly. Ask about their friends and their activities. If they are involved in sports, music or art - then ask them to let you know about the games (and get in touch with their coaches). Send them photos at least weekly via email or text.
It is going to take some good scheduling and planning to see your children when you live far away, and we recommend a formal parenting plan as an agreement between parents. Do remember that your kids may want to spend some of their holidays with the other parent from time to time. Make accommodations when you can for their best benefit.
It may be more cost effective for you to travel to where they are at then it will be to bring them to you. It depends on how far away you are and how many children you have. They age of the children matters too as younger ones often have a difficult time traveling. Most airlines do allow older children to fly alone but this can be hard for parents to accept.
Some parents that live far away from their children feel the only way to show they care is to send expensive gifts. While those are a nice bonus, that isn’t what it is all about. Your children want to know that you love them and that you care about them. They want to know that no matter how many miles are between you, they have a loving and support parent that is always there for them. It’s more valuable to have regular contact, be honest and real, and let them know they are loved.
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Just about every weekend, we'll send out a simple set of challenges for you to do with your kiddos. Now, we know that you may not have your kids every weekend, so do the ones you can.
These three challenges won't take a ton of time - and we'll always work to keep them los cost or free. However, all of them will be beneficial to you and your kids.
We'll share in a later post the science and reasoning behind these activities and their benefits to you and your child(ren).
Keep it up Rad Dad!
Take a walk with your kid(s), ideally in a place you haven't been to before. Try a nearby park, nature area, or a historic neighborhood. If the weather is bad, there's always the option of a mall or museum. You can, of course, walk for longer!
Go to your local library and check-out five books. Yes, books. You can check out movies and music too, and be sure to check out books. Many libraries do have activities such as legos and crafts. Check the calendar for that. Bonus points if you check out a book and you each have some reading time together.
No matter what your kids ages are, and even if they are adults, make a drawing together. You can either draw on the same sheet of paper or each your own - either is fine.
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