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Adults see divorce/separation for the complex, multi-faceted situation it is. The difficulty usually comes in the days and weeks that follow as it starts to define itself, by the inevitable changes that are ahead.

With any divorce/separation those changes are the catalyst for fear, sadness, and any other negative emotions that children may have. It is imperative that parents make every effort to avoid as many changes to their kid's daily lives as possible in order to lessen the impact that divorce/separation may have on them.

Most common mistakes parents make in a divorce or separation are neglecting routines, rituals, and discipline. But more importantly, reminding them that they are safe, innocent, and very much loved.

In some cases, having frequent and predictable contact with both the noncustodial parent and extended family is also key in helping kids cope. Letting them know that the family unit is not "broken"; it's simply "rearranged." It is possible for many separated parents to become cordial partners again in raising their kids.

What Really Helps Kids
Three factors seem to help children of any age adjust after divorce/separation: having a strong relationship with both parents (when possible and when the child wants it); plain good parenting (what we call maintaining parenting capacity); and minimal exposure to conflict. The challenge for parents is pulling it off.

Nurturing the bond
Loss of a parent-child relationship after divorce can happen when one parent drifts out of the child's life, or when one parent (or both) undermines the other's relationship with the child. Or it may be the child who pulls back.

As parents, what you can do, apart from maintaining your own ties with a child, is to respect his relationship with the other parent. If you denigrate the other parent in front of your children, you are essentially devaluating their relationship.

Maintain good parenting
It's hard to maintain normal good parenting when you are grieving a lost relationship and preoccupied with lawyers and court dates. Do your very best to keep the adult issues separate from your interactions with your children, and get outside help like counselling, if you need it.

We recommend divorced /separated parent education classes such "For the Sake of the Children" which is especially beneficial for parents experiencing separation. Both parents are encouraged to participate and will be registered to attend separate sessions. The program is also open to others.

How to Register: To register for a FREE session, please call toll free: 1-888-236-2444 (Fredericton Region: 444-3855)

Containing conflict
The ideal approach to post-divorce/separation conflict is to stop it before it starts. Here are six ways to lower the temperature when conflict is high:

  1. Limit conversations when exchanging the children. Stick to the basics like confirming pickup and drop-off times. Make a pact promising that you will never argue in front of the children.
  2. Don't use children to send messages back and forth with your ex. Don't let your kids get caught in the middle.
  3. Exchange important details in writing. Some parents use e-mail; others use a book that goes back and forth with the children. If things are really tense, have someone else screen your e-mail for inflammatory language before you send it.
  4. Respect the other parent's time with the children. Be on time (or have children ready) for pickups. Make sure anything they need to take with them (homework, clothes, special equipment) is ready as well. Never make the children choose between the two of you.
  5. Respect your ex-partner's privacy. You have a different relationship now; you're aiming for more of a business-type partnership. You don't need to know as much as about his or her personal life as you once did. Please don't go through your children to get information about your ex-partner's life.
  6. Constantly remind the children that none of this is their fault, that you will always be their parents, take care of them, and most importantly, and that they are safe and very much loved.

Try practicing child-centered parenting by consistently creating parenting plans and conflict resolution strategies that genuinely meet your children's emotional and psychological needs--first and foremost and for the rest of their lives.