Yale Parenting Center
Making Families Stronger November 2015

From Alan Kazdin

Navigating Divorce with Children

The Child First Principle

Divorce and separation raises scores of challenges for parents and children.  Also, situations can vary greatly from one family to the next.  There are, however, some things you can do to make the process less stressful on your family.  If your interactions with your former spouse or partner are all pleasant, then there may be fewer issues.  If there is any conflict, first and foremost be guided by the child first principle.  That means, ask yourself whether what you are doing at the moment and in the presence of your child is primarily in your own interest or in your child's interest.  A conflict or argument that is heated may be addressing an important issue, but is likely to have a negative impact on your child.  Conflict may cause anxiety, depression, and even fear about future change in children.  The principle is to keep your child's psychological and physical welfare the top priority.  This newsletter will illustrate some concrete ways in which you can follow that principle and hopefully make a stressful situation calmer and less harmful on the family's well being. 

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For Parents

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Do's and Don'ts

  • Don't argue in front of kids.
  • Do walk away and end conversation if it isn't calm.
  • Don't bash other parent.
  • Do try to say positive comments about the other parent to and in front of your child.
  • Don't criticize the other parent's lifestyle.
  • Do communicate about household rules and expectations in each home.
  • Don't build in a lot of transitions and changes in a child's week if possible.
  • Do establish and keep at least one predictable routine or occurrence to reduce stress (ex: grocery shopping every Sunday).
  • Don't put yourself last on the list.
  • Do take care of yourself and reduce stress by taking time for yourself and be sure to get support from family, friends, and/or a therapist.

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Passing the Baton

The transition from one parent's household to the other for visits and joint custody can sometimes be a difficult one.  There are often differences between the two homes in terms of rules, parenting styles, and normal activities.  Schedules, holidays, and family events can also contribute to the long list of possible conflicts.  Your ability to communicate with your co-parent is vital. Anticipate changes and dilemmas and compromise when possible.  Be reasonable in the face of conflict as long as it is not harmful for your child.  Give a little when you disagree.  This flexibility goes a long way and teaches your child how to be calm and flexible when faced with a problem as well.

Tips For Talking to Your Kids About Divorce

  • Be truthful without blaming.
  • Keep it age appropriate (younger children need less detail).  Use terms your child understands.
  • Listen to your child, let him or her talk as much as he or she wants.
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings rather than discounting them.
  • Reassure your child that both parents will be there through this change.
  • Use lots of touch and physical closeness during your talk.

Professional Interest


Using Parent Management Training With Divorced Couples

  • In sessions, emphasize a team approach and how great it is that they are both attending sessions.
  • Interrupt all arguing and blaming in session and prompt for only saying positive things about the other.
  • Praise parents for remaining calm and saying positive things about each other in the session.
  • Set up similar point charts in each home to reinforce positive behaviors in children.

  • If it isn't possible for both parents to get through a session calmly, ask that they decide which one of them will participate.  PMT will still be effective if you only train one parent and sessions will be more productive without the arguments. 

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Red Flags for Therapists Working with Children of Divorcing Parents

Children going through a divorce are likely to exhibit many different reactions to stress.  Some changes in mood and behavior are normal, however there are some things to look for and treat immediately.  Referrals for immediate specialized services or even hospitalization may be necessary.  Be on the look out for:

  • sleep difficulties
  • changes in appetite
  • trouble at school or in concentrating
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • substance abuse
  • self-harm or statements about self-harm
  • increased aggression


What's Happening at the Center


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Dear YPC

Dear YPC is a new feature in which we answer your questions.  We cannot answer all of our requests and will select one to publish that relates to the theme of the newsletter. 

Dear YPC,
I am hoping you can give me some advice. My husband and I are divorced and have shared custody of our two boys ages four and seven.  The boys spend every other weekend at their dad's house and return home on Sunday nights.  These Sunday nights have been really hard.  They are all wound up and won't listen to anything I tell them to do.  I end up yelling at them and this is stressful for all of us.  Help! 

Sincerely, Janet

Dear Janet,

Thank you so much for writing us.  We are sorry to hear that there is stress in your home and we are happy to help.  It is common for kids to be out of sorts after transitions between parents. 

First, we would suggest that you try to keep expectations low on these Sunday nights.  For example, if possible, do not leave important tasks like homework for this time period.

Second, try to establish a positive reinforcement program for this time period.  Start with a small short goal that you can increase in the future.  For example, if the boys are calm which means calm voices and hands to themselves for the first 10 minutes when they get home, they get lots of praise and maybe earn a small reward.  They could earn a special treat or some screen time.  Once you get the first ten minutes going smoothly (this may take several weeks), then you can add more time.  Before you know it, things will be much calmer on Sunday nights.  Good luck!

Sincerely, YPC

 

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