Helping children adjust to change

Adjusting to the change in the family dynamic is difficult for most children. At a minimum, they are faced with the loss of daily contact with one parent, telling their friends about their parents splitting up, and going back and forth between two homes.This can be pretty overwhelming for a child to take in over a short period of time.

You can help by:

  • Identifying the changes ahead of time and discussing them honestly.
  • Providing opportunities for your children to have input in planning for some of the changes.
  • Minimizing unnecessary changes, including discipline and behavior standards.

When dealing with the unknown, our imaginations can create all kinds of worst-case scenarios and worries. By anticipating and discussing what the future will bring, you can help your children adjust to the changes. You may find it helpful to review the list of what might change in the Teens section of this website. You and your children will also be able to identify additional changes that are specific to your situation.

Many of the changes brought about by divorce and separation are out of your children’s control. Anything you can do to reduce feelings of powerlessness can make adjustment easier. When possible, let them have some input and choice. For example, if there are two or three choices of visitation schedules that could work for both parents, let the children decide which would suit them best.

Wherever possible, routine activities such as sports, lessons, and clubs should continue. It is also more important than ever to be reliable and dependable. Keep any promises you make to your children, and be careful not to make promises that you will not be able to carry out.

It will be tempting to relax your normal discipline and rules to help ease your children through this difficult time. However, changing your household rules will cause anxiety for your children. They appreciate the limits you set, even though they continually test them. It is also counterproductive to shower the children with extra spending money, shopping trips, or other treats. Your unconditional love and patience is what will get them through this transition. For more, see Parenting Strategies.

During times of change, reassure your children that they are still the same people they always were. It is important to see their friends and continue with the activities they enjoy, even though things are changing.

If your child is having a lot of difficulty coping with the separation or divorce, talk to your family doctor.