Never lose sight of the most important aspect of your divorce: your children

Couples going through a divorce are often so immersed in fighting with the other party that they forget the most important thing about their divorce: their children. Instead, parties become short, aggravated and distant with their children because they have expended all of their energy fighting with their ex-spouse.

Below are some questions and comments compiled by C. Paul Wanio, PhD, LMFT, that remind parents about the most fundamental needs of every child.

1) How can I caringly protect my child from excessive conflicts and frustrations at home?

A child must have a feeling of safety and protection at home. A child needs to know that someone is in charge who will not allow overwhelming emotions or situations to occur, will set limits with fairness, will listen compassionately, and will explain confusing situations to alleviate the child's fears.

2) How can I help my child to not feel guilty or ashamed about mistakes, accidents or failures?

Children need to learn from their mistakes, not feel put down or punished. They need to believe in themselves, to know that it is okay to make a mistake, and that you still love them no matter what.

3) How can I assist my child to feel a sense of self-esteem and encouragement?

Children need to feel that their self-worth does not merely depend upon accomplishments, but upon who they are as individuals. They need to feel accepted by you even if you or others do not always approve of their behavior. It is especially important during divorce that children know that they are loved by both parents. Putting down the other parent is like putting down a part of your child since he or she is a part of that parent. Avoid disparaging remarks about the other parent even if you are angry.

4) How can I encourage independence and a feeling of competency in my child?

In general, children need a sense of their very own achievement. They need to handle some things on their own, to be given choices and to feel some sense of being trusted and capable. During the time of divorce, your child may become more vulnerable and regress to an earlier stage of development. Do not demean your child for this, but understand that he or she may need to feel more "like a little kid" than "Mommy's or Daddy's big boy or girl." If handled with compassion, this should be a temporary situation. If long-lasting, it may represent undue emotional stress.

Rather than expending all of your energy in to negative feelings about your ex-spouse, redirect that energy into ensuring that your children remain happy, healthy and well-adjusted despite the divorce. Remember, there is nothing in your divorce that is more important than your children.

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