People pass on to us items which they think would be helpful in our blog. Suzannah Kelly of Bountiful Films recently forwarded to me Joan Kelly’s Top Ten Ways To Protect Your Kid s from the Fallout of a High Conflict Break-up. Bountiful Films says that “Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D. is a groundbreaking clinical psychologist and researcher who began studying the impact of divorce on children in 1968. Joan is an author, therapist, mediator, and parenting coordinator with four decades of experience working with high conflict parents who are separating. She has more than 85 publications, including Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce which she authored with Judith Wallerstein.”
1. Talk to your children about your separation.
Studies show that only 5 percent of parents actually sit down, explain to their children when a
marriage is breaking up, and encourage the kids to ask questions. Nearly one quarter of parents
say nothing, leaving their children in total confusion. Talk to your kids. Tell them, in very simple
terms, what it all means to them and their lives. When parents do not explain what’s happening
to their children, the kids feel anxious, upset and lonely and find it much harder to cope with the
2. Be discreet.
Recognize that your children love you both, and think of how to reorganize things in a way that
respects their relationship with both parents. Don’t leave adversarial papers, filings and
affidavits out on your kitchen counter for children to read. Don’t talk to your best friend, your
mother, your lawyer on the phone about legal matters or your ex when the kids are in the next
room. They may hear you. Sometimes kids creep up to the door to listen. Even though they’re
disturbed by conflict and meanness between their parents, kids are inevitably curious – and ill equipped
to understand these adult matters.
3. Act like grown-ups. Keep your conflict away from the kids.
Even parents with high levels of anger can “encapsulate” their conflict, creating a protective
buffer for the children by saving arguments or fights for a mediator’s office – or a scheduled
meeting at a coffee shop. It may seem obvious but so many separating parents continue to fall
down on this front. When parents put children in the middle of their conflict and use them as
messengers, sounding-boards, or spies, children often become depressed and angry and
may develop behavioral problems .
4 . Dad, stay in the picture.
Long-term studies show that the more involved fathers are after separation and divorce, the
better. Develop a child-centered parenting plan that allows a continuing and meaningful
relationship with both parents. Where a good father-child relationship exists, kids grow into
adolescence and young adulthood as well-adjusted as married-family children. High levels of
appropriate father involvement are linked to better academic functioning in kids as well as better
adjustment overall. That’s true at every age level and particularly in adolescents. Fathers, be
more than a “fun” dad. Help with homework and projects, use appropriate discipline, and be
emotionally available to talk about problems.
5. Mom, deal with anger appropriately.
In their anger and pain, mothers may actively try to keep Dad out of the children’s lives – even
when they are good fathers whom the children love. When you’re hurting, it’s easy to think you
never want to see the ex again, and to convince yourself that’s also best for the kids. But
children’s needs during separation are very different from their parents. Research reports
children consistently saying, “Tell my dad I want to see him more. I want to see him for longer
periods of time. Tell my mom to let me see my dad.”
6. Be a good parent.
You can be forgiven for momentarily “losing it” in anger or grief, but not for long. Going through
a separation is not a vacation from parenting – providing appropriate discipline, monitoring your
children, maintaining your expectations about school, being emotionally available. Competent
parenting has emerged as one of the most important protective factors in terms of children’s
positive adjustment to separation.
7. Manage your own mental health.
If feelings of depression, anxiety, or anger continue to overwhelm you, seek help. Even a few
sessions of therapy can be enormously useful. Remember, your own mental health ha s an
impact o n your children.
8. Keep the people your children care about in their lives.
Encourage your children to stay connected to your ex’s family and important friends. If possible,
use the same babysitters or child-care. This stable network strengthens a child’s feeling that
they are not alone in this world, but have a deep and powerful support system – an important
factor in becoming a psychologically healthy adult.
9. Be thoughtful about your future love life.
Ask yourself: must your children meet everyone you date? Take time, a lot of time, before you
remarry or cohabit again. Young children in particular form attachments to your potential life
partners and, if new relationships break up, loss after loss may lead to depression and lack of
trust in children. And don’t expect your older kids to instantly love someone you’ve chosen – this
person will have to earn their respect and affection.
10. Pay your child support .
Even if you’re angry or access to your children is withheld, pay child support regularly. Children
whose parents separate or divorce face much more economic instability than their married
counterparts, even when support is paid. Don’t make the situation worse. In this as in all things,
let your message to the kids be that you care so much about them that you will keep them
separate, and safe, from any conflict. They will appreciate it as they get older.
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