Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


What Children Need Most When Their Parents Divorce

Help your children cope with sadness and confusion after divorce.

Divorce is an extremely stressful and complicated event for adults, not to mention the effects it has on children. Even amicable divorces result in sadness and confusion.

Adjusting to new living conditions, juggling living in two different homes, confusion regarding why the divorce happened, and always wondering if it is “my” fault are some of the prevalent challenges that children of divorced homes experience. After a divorce, a child’s psychological needs significantly increase as they live in the middle of an emotional (and perhaps economic) roller coaster filled with guilt, fear, and confusion.

  • Acceptance: Make sure your children know that they are your number one priority and that both parents deeply love them.
  • Assurance of safety: Every divorce results in changes in routines, and your child may feel unsafe or feel as if they do not belong. It is essential to try to work out a solid daily routine, boundaries, and structure. Your children need to know that their world is safe. Consistency can help.
  • Structure: Maintain the same meal schedules, after-school activities, and play dates as much as possible. Keeping a daily and weekly routine can help keep your children stay focused and out of trouble. Additionally, it is essential to set boundaries and practice a discipline and reward system when necessary.
  • Freedom from guilt or blame for the divorce: Your child does not need to know the intimate details of your divorce. Your child also does not need to listen to fighting or bickering after the divorce has taken place. As two adult parents, it is your responsibility to protect your children from any emotional or verbal turmoil. This includes any unhealthy feelings between you and your ex-spouse, custody battle, financial dissolutions, or any other negative aspect of your marriage that can affect your child in an unhealthy manner. It is not essential for your child to know why you chose to become divorced, but it is incredibly important that your child understand that they did nothing to cause the divorce, and there is nothing they can do to mend your marriage. Your child is not a pawn. Unfortunately, however, your child will soak up any negative feelings or actions that the divorce has caused. Often, children blame themselves and try to personalize these situations. You can tell them that divorce was a decision made by and between the adults, and no matter what happens between you and your ex-spouse, you will always love your child no matter what. Your child is not at fault but should always be protected. And be your priority.
  • Playtime: Allow kids to be kids. Their job is to be well behaved, to learn, and to have fun. Their childhood will shape their future and therefore, it is not necessary to include them in the details of the divorce.
  • Strong parents: Remember that children pick up on body language and conversations. They can sense signs of weakness and sadness, and therefore it is essential always to remain strong and positive. Make it a priority to seek therapy if you have to and to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally. You must be strong not only for yourself but for your children.

Most kids are not used to change, and with divorce comes more change than anyone can dream. It is essential to follow two primary rules during these unstable times:

  1. Do not burden your children with situations they cannot control. Children should not bear such a responsibility. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their strengths and abilities.
  2. Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems. Your custody battles and financial stressors are your own responsibility. Their focus should be on navigating the various child development stages they go through.
More from Kristen Fuller, M.D.
More from Psychology Today