Oakland County Friend of the Court provides information on its SMILE Program (Start Making It Liveable for Everyone) on its website. The program handbook includes this section on How Parents Can Help Their Children:
Divorce often results in children feeling overwhelmed by the losses and changes they are experiencing. It takes time to adjust, and the time needed varies from child to child. Parents can help their children cope with divorce.
Children Need Predictability
Children who can maintain regular routines are less likely to be overwhelmed by the changes divorce brings. Parents should do their best to build and maintain healthy and smooth environments.
Children need frequent and regular contacts with both parents.
Parents should be on time for the exchange of children for time sharing. This sets a good example for children and does not disrupt children’s routines.
Children need continued contact with friends and relatives of both parents.
Children need personal space to call their own, even if it is just a corner.
Parents should exercise caution when introducing new boyfriends or girlfriends to children. Children often feel confused about their sense of loyalty, and parents’ casual relationship may contribute to children’s sense of insecurity and instability.
Children Need Relationships With Both Parents
A parent needs to stress the good points about the other parents and avoid name-calling, saying bad things, or blaming the other parent for problems.
A parent should keep family photos available, including photos of the other parent.
A parent should allow children to express their love for the other parent and talk about their experiences with the other parent.
If children complain about one parent, the other parent should encourage children to take the complaint to the person responsible rather than agree with the children.
A parent has no control over the other parent.
A parent should encourage the other parent’s involvement in the children’s school or other activities and advise of parent/teacher conferences, provide report cards and give other information pertaining to the welfare of the children.
A parent should assist children to buy cards and gifts for the other parent.
Parents should telephone, write, make tapes and send cards if they are not able to see their children regularly.
Children Should Be Kept Out of the Middle
Parents should talk directly to each other about child-related information parents need to discuss. If talking is not possible, communicate in writing. Children should not be used as messengers.
A parent should not ask children what goes on in the other parent’s home. This is a violation of children’s trust.
Parents should not argue in front of the children. Parents should manage their feelings, and if they cannot, they should end the conversation until they are able to do so.
Parents should never expect or encourage their children to take sides.
If children tell a parent that the other parent lets them stay up late or lets them eat sweets for dinner, a parent should tell children that they must follow the rules of the household and that the other parent cannot be told what to do in his/her home.
A parent should not withhold the children from the other parent or refuse to pay child support. Children should not be used as weapons to get back at the other parent.
Children Need Parents as Adult Role Models
Parents should use common courtesy and be civil and business-like in their dealings with each other.
Parents should not jump to conclusions before getting all the information.
Parents should follow up agreements, in writing, about vacation dates, trips to the doctor or dentist, and changes in time-sharing to avoid confusion and double scheduling.
Parents should negotiate with one another about changes in time-sharing or responsibilities for the children that each parent will assume. Negotiation requires giving and taking by both parents.
Parents should recognize that as children grow and develop, time-sharing and parents’ responsibilities may have to change to meet the changing needs of the children.
Parents should not allow their past conflicts to interfere with present decisions regarding children.
Parents should not make negative comments about their children, comparing them to the other parent.
A parent should not expect children to take the place of the absent parent or depend on the children for emotional support. Children need to be children.
Communication is Important
Parents should tell children about the divorce together if possible.
Children need to know, sometimes over and over, how they will be affected by the divorce, where they will go to school, where they will live, when they will see the other parent, friends and relatives, and who will take care of them should something happen to the parent with whom they live most of the time.
Children need reassurance that they are not to blame for the divorce.
Parents should answer children’s questions honestly while avoiding unnecessary details.
Parents should discuss divorce-related issues in terms the children can understand. It is helpful to avoid terms such as “custody” and “visitation”.
Parents should encourage children to talk about the divorce and their feelings and discuss problems openly.
Parents need to accept children’s mood swings and emotional outbursts and not take them personally. Counseling or support groups may help children resolve their feelings.
Children should be helped to accept the reality of the divorce and not be given false hope of reunion.
Parents should approach single parenting with a positive attitude and speak encouragingly about the future.
Children need to know that a parent is strong and going to take care of them.
Parents should express their love and commitment to the children to help them feel secure.
Children’s adjustment to divorce depends on how parents handle the divorce. Parents are role models for children and need to set a good example for them. Children imitate the behaviors and attitudes of their parents.
When parents are able to lay aside their anger and resentment toward the other parent and handle the divorce in a mature and positive way, children benefit and are assisted in making a healthy adjustment to divorce. The greatest gift divorced parents can give their children is to allow them to have a loving, satisfying relationship with both parents and not expose them to continued conflict and hostility.