Children Coping With Divorce

Children Coping With Divorce

Nurturing helps kids feel secure and keeps them out of trouble.
By Sylvia Davis
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

The conflict, the fighting. When divorce is imminent, childrencan lose all sense of security. Research shows that when kids don''t cope wellwith the divorce, the pattern can follow them for years.

In fact, children of divorced parents have nearly triple theemotional problems, drug use, arrests -- are more likely to drop out of schooland to have unwanted pregnancies.

How Can You Help Children Cope?

For advice, WebMD turned to several of the country''sexperts.

Don''t deny the reality of the situation, says Gretchen Crum,LCSW, a psychotherapist in the Child and Family Counseling Center at Children''sHospital of Pittsburgh.

"If the parents don''t talk about it at all, kids getanxious," Crum tells WebMD. "They don''t know what''s going on. Kids needthe right information. They also need to know that the turmoil is temporary,that it will be resolved, that things will be OK, even though we will live indifferent houses, they will see both parents."

Keep the conflict civil. "It isn''t the fighting -- fightinggoes on in everybody''s house. It''s the degree of fighting, the viciousness anddestructiveness of it. Children learn that''s how you deal with problems inlife," says Irene Goldenberg, EdD, a family psychologist and professoremeritus of psychology at UCLA.

"But if parents can negotiate the divorce as a more normalsituation, as an attempt to deal with failure, both parents and children canrebound. People can rebound from all kinds of failures successfully," shetells WebMD.

Make efforts to reduce your children''s stress, says IrwinSandler, PhD, professor of psychology at Arizona State University and adirector of its Prevention Research Center.

Sandler has developed programs to help families throughdivorce, reported in the Oct.16 issue of The Journal of the American MedicalAssociation.

"When parents provide stability, warmth, and disciplinethat the kids need, kids do better" he tells WebMD. "It doesn''t happenmagically. Divorce is a difficult time for everybody. But when the stresses aredealt with, children do better."

The payoff: The adolescents have fewer sexual partners andfewer problems with marijuana, drugs, and alcohol. They also have feweremotional problems.

"The benefits were particularly found for those kids whohad more problems when came into problem and those where divorce had moreconflict, more stress -- which is very important," Sandler tells WebMD.

Developing a warm, friendly feeling within the new family isessential, he says.

One suggestion: "Create stable, positive activities --family fun time -- something the whole family does as a group every week. Theentire family negotiates it, because let''s face it, 10-year-olds and15-year-olds enjoy different things. The attitude is, we''ll do my favoritething next week, if we do yours this week."

When families do something active, something inexpensive, it''seasier to continue the tradition every week, says Sandler. "The criticalthing is, you''re creating a stable routine. It gives kids the message thatparents are giving their most valuable resource -- themselves, their time, andthere''s no substitute for that." Because everyone agrees on it, they make acommitment to the family, he says.

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