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by Louise Hajjar Diamond

One of the most difficult issues facing children is the divorce of their parents or caretakers. Divorce requires significant adjustment for all family members including children, parents and grandparents. For several reasons, adolescents may experience a more difficult transitional period than their younger or older siblings may. Adolescence is a time of personal change, seeking acceptance and developing individual identity. A major life change at this point in a childĦs development may be particularly traumatic.


During my eleven years as a guidance counselor, IĦve counseled many elementary and middle school students on regarding the divorce of their parents. Even though IĦve never met a child who was unaffected by his or her parentsĦ divorce, some children are able not only to adjust but to thrive after the initial transition period during and immediately following the divorce.


In my experience as a counselor, the children who have the most healthy experiences are those whose lives are as or more stable after the divorce. The keys to helping kids to adjust and cope with divorce seem to be developing a new normalcy or reality and building stability. Here are some tips for helping your kids with your divorce and maintaining a new family structure.



š       Naturally, like you, your children will experience a wide range of emotions when adjusting to the divorce and their new life. If your childrenĦs perception of family life prior to the breakup was positive, they may need to grieve the loss. It may help to grieve together. Reassure your kids they can always count on you and your former spouse (if thatĦs realistic) to be there for them. Keep communication open. Make significant adults aware of the divorce (teachers, coaches, counselors, and sitters).

š       Obviously, with each additional change there will be more reactions and perhaps setbacks. Expect your adolescents to respond to seeing his or her parents dating other people, remarrying, and new siblings.

š       Some adolescents experience a drop in grades or develop anger management issues. Children may react by withdrawing from the family and seeking acceptance and comfort from peers. Anticipate such changes in your adolescentĦs behavior. Kids often take their emotional and behavioral lead from their parents. Be aware of your own moods and behaviors. Try not to be offended if your child says something hurtful or blames you for the divorce. Kids (and adults) tend to release their most negative emotions where they feel the most secure.



š       Encourage your children to ask you questions about the divorce. Understand that that this conversation may not be a one-time discussion but may come up over and over again. Listen to your children with understanding and without judgment. Adolescents will probably have an idea about why the divorce occurred. You can be frank with your kids while trying to avoid criticizing your ex-spouse. Reassure your children that divorce is the end of a marriage, not the family. Directly tell your kids that they did not cause the divorce and they canĦt control or change the situation.

š       Preserve your normal routines and house rules. When possible, avoid multiple changes at once, such as moving, changing schools, and losing contact with friends, grandparents, and other support systems. Unless you know that your former spouse will inflict harm on your children, encourage your children to maintain their relationship with their other parent. If possible, try to encourage your ex-spouse to maintain similar rules and routines in his or her home with your children. Set up a place for your kidsĦ belongings in each home even if itĦs just a drawer or shelf.


š       Even though adolescents may be aware of the causes of the divorce, avoid asking your children to take sides.

š       Resist turning to your adolescent as a confidant as a substitute for a spouse.

š       DonĦt allow your negative feelings about the divorce cloud your judgement about issues related to your kids.

š      Avoid pumping your kids for information after a visit with the former spouse.

š       DonĦt burden your children with secrets to keep from their other parent.

š       Try not to send messages to your ex-spouse through your children. Young teens tend to resent these practices and they may work against you by breaking down lines of communication.

š       Refrain from making harsh or condemning comments about your former spouse in front of your child. For example, if an adolescent boy constantly hears how awful is father is, he may internalize these emotions and think that he too is no good. After all, his father is part of him. Even if a child doesnĦt actually verbalize these feelings, they remain inside him and will eventually influence his behavior and choices. Kids will eventually make their own judgements and evaluations about a parentĦs behavior. It may take time but in most cases it will happen. Chances are your kids will make peace with themselves and both parents.

Most adolescents can benefit from speaking with a qualified listener during times of stress and change. Fortunately, there is a great deal of counseling and support available for both kids and parents regarding divorce. Public schools often offer individual and group counseling for students during the school day. You can start by meeting with your childĦs guidance counselor. The counselor can speak with your child and make recommendations specific to the studentĦs needs. The school can also provide you with information about counseling programs that are offered at no cost within your school district. Most of the public middle schools offer peer counseling and mediation. The school districts also provide family counseling parent training and support groups.


To learn more about counseling and parenting programs offered in your school district visit your districtĦs website: . You can also find counseling and divorce support groups in many community agencies and places of worship.


(Louise Hajjar Diamond is a guidance counselor, freelance writer and mother of two. To reprint this article, e-mail her at weazer@sprynet.com.)







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