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Minimizing divorce's toll on your children

Each year in Minnesota, tens of thousands of couples decide to end their marriages and seek a divorce. It's a difficult decision, but sometimes divorce is the best option for everyone involved, allowing both spouses to move on with their lives.

However, sometimes other people are directly affected by this decision. For example, divorce can have a huge impact on a child's life. A child may feel like his or her world is being turned upside-down when parents decide to split up.

There are ways to ensure that your child(ren) still has (have) the parental support they need to help them weather your divorce.

A child's reactions to divorce can vary from indifference to anger to sadness. How a child reacts will depend on his or her age, life experience, personality and any unique circumstances surrounding the divorce. But a few tactics can help almost any child cope with divorce and move towards a healthier, happier family.

  • Break the news gently. Sit down with your spouse and your children, ideally after a few practice runs. Explain the situation to them calmly. Above all, make sure you convey that what's happening is not their fault.
  • Respect their reaction. Acknowledge children's feelings and reassure them that those feelings are valid and important to you. Try to answer their questions as honestly as possible.
  • Offer support. Many children grieve over divorce like they would any other loss. They will need time to adjust to a new living situation but in the meantime it is important to encourage them to share their feelings honestly. Be a good listener and try to anticipate their needs.
  • Don't let the details weigh on them. Your divorce is your responsibility, not your children's, and they don't need any extra stress during this time. No matter how frustrated you are by your ex, try to keep things civil. Never blame your ex or call him or her names within earshot of your child.
  • Get help. Build your own network of support for times you need to vent or wring your hands. Your children are going through their own adjustment and should not have to worry about you.

Change can be difficult, but know that you will manage this one. And with supportive, loving parents, children can survive - and thrive - after divorce.

Source: Kids' Health, "Helping Your Child Through a Divorce."

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