Children & Divorce

Helping your Child to Deal with Custody
Your divorce will become real to your child once you and your spouse are no longer living in the same home, and your decisions regarding custody and visitation will have long-term effects for your child. Even in the best cases where both parents act with the interests of the child in mind, divorce will still be very difficult for most children. Here is some practical advice for helping your child cope with your custody arrangements.

First, you should not give your child too much decision-making power. It is confusing and frightening for the child to be placed in a situation of having to choose between parents. You should not ask a young child to decide who to live with, and in most cases you should not allow a child to choose whether or not to have visitations. Generally speaking, children feel more secure when they know that the grown-ups are taking care of important decisions.

Once the decisions are made, you’ll need to talk honestly but carefully to your child about the custody arrangements. Let the child know what is to come, and help him or her to prepare for transitions from one household to another. Above all, avoid criticizing your child’s other parent, and discuss visitation with your child in a way that is encouraging and positive.

After the divorce, your child will need structure and routine. Too much change will be confusing and distressing. Try to follow a consistent schedule for sharing custody. If at all possible, you and your ex-spouse should maintain consistency between the two households, in terms of the daily schedule, rules, and expectations.

Encourage your child to carry some possessions back and forth between each household to feel at home. Your child might want to carry a few favorite photographs, a keepsake album, or some favorite toys. Do not force your child to divide up his or her possessions, leaving separate sets of clothes and toys at each parent’s home. Not only is this financially impractical, but it is also hurtful to your child, who may not understand why he cannot wear his new shoes or bring his favorite toys with him.