According to a recent national survey, divorce rates in the US fell from 9.7 new divorces per 1,000 women in 2009 to 7.6 in 2019. But despite the decline in divorce rates, it doesn’t change the fact that the process of divorce and child custody is a stressful time for young children. For one, children in custody cases experience great emotional stress, affecting their mental health. Since a child’s physical and mental welfare depends on the trial’s verdict on which parent gets custody, it’s more important than ever that authorities make the best legal decision. However, that’s easier said than done. Maryville University’s feature on child custody cases noted how judges are under pressure to make the right decision in custody battles to ensure a child’s welfare. Although judges are guided by the child's best interests, complications or biases can still arise when there’s limited time available for arguments in these cases. To reach the best possible decision, judges will also evaluate the parent’s mental and physical well-being and caretaking capacity to guarantee that children are in an arrangement where they are not at risk of abuse or neglect. This is important because a study by Violetta Schaan from the University of Luxembourg showed that parental divorce during childhood results in reduced well-being and resilience and increased levels of childhood trauma and rejection sensitivity. Therefore, parents must guarantee they are emotionally capable of guiding and supporting their children during the divorce to prevent them from happening. Here are three ways to take care of your child’s mental health when going through a divorce:
Encourage them to talk about their feelings
Conversations about feelings and emotions, especially during the divorce, can be daunting for parents, but they are necessary. Listen carefully instead of dismissing them when your child starts to talk about the situation. It’s normal for children to have difficulties expressing their feelings. So, be patient and acknowledge that their emotions are valid. Mari Kurahashi explained that even if discussing the problem doesn’t change the situation, being able to talk about feelings and worries openly can help children feel better. Ask them questions and tell them they can come to you with anything. Creating a safe and open space for discourse with your child can enable them to process their emotions healthily.
Have a regular and consistent routine
Children may feel confused and anxious when they see that their family members are no longer together. Because their everyday life is disrupted, this may affect their ability to concentrate due to anxiety, and they may withdraw from social activities. When this happens, you can support your child by creating a regular and consistent daily routine at home. It may include time to eat breakfast, finish homework, play outside, and sleep at the same time as each other. We shared in our post on the ‘Importance of Sleep’ that if your child doesn’t get enough downtime, this can lead to greater risks of developing mental health disorders. So, having a predictable and familiar daily routine can help your child feel secure and have a semblance of normalcy to protect their mental health.
Avoid bad-mouthing your ex-spouse
Even if you’re not on the best terms with your ex-spouse, it’s best to take the high road and be respectful to the other parent for the sake of your child. If your child hears you talk badly about your ex-spouse, this can force them to experience a loyalty conflict, and they will feel guilty if they have to choose sides. This doesn’t only apply in the presence of your children. Don’t talk badly about the other parent with your friends, relatives, and especially on social media. Remember that your child needs the love and support of both parents to help them have better mental health and grow up without childhood traumas or trust issues. More importantly, being civil with your ex-spouse can ensure that your child can still grow up with both parents by their side.
Article contributed by Ruth Ann James