Twenty-five Ways to Help Your Children Through a Separation

Most parents love their children. Chances are that your child’s other parent is no exception to that generality. Most parents want their children to grow up to be happy, healthy, well balanced adults. But somewhere in the process of divorce and separation, parents make mistakes that end up hurting their children. While you may not agree with the other parent’s child rearing practices, or the way they do things, it is the best practice to treat the other parent with kindness and respect. Especially when the separation is new, parents often let their pain spill over to their children. Intentionally and unintentionally, actions are done which may harm your children. Here are some guidelines. Really, these are things you already know but may have forgotten because of everything that is going on in your life. Sometimes acts have unintended consequences. When you have children you need to be careful to consider them and their needs in everything you do. You should encourage a loving and positive relationship between the children and the other parent, regardless of your personal issues. Even if the other parent may have issues that will prevent or limit that parent’s custodial time with the children you can still treat the other parent with courtesy and good manners. Here are 25 ways you can help your children through the separation.

  1. Let your child have reasonable telephone contact with the other parent whenever the child wants. And let your child receive calls from the other parent at reasonable times and frequencies. If you take a cell phone as a punishment, do not block the other parent’s line.
  2. Be careful of what you say and where you leave your documents. Do not speak or write derogatory remarks about the other parent to the children, or within the children’s hearing.
  3. Children practice what they are taught. Do not use language within your children’s hearing that you do not want them to use.
  4. Your divorce issues should not become your children’s problems. Be careful not to let your children overhear arguments, negotiations or other substantive discussions about legal or personal matters between or about you and the other parent.
  5. No child should ever be forced to take sides between the parents. You should never physically or psychologically attempt to pressure or influence the children concerning the legal proceedings between the parents.
  6. You should allow the child to display photographs of the other parent or both parents in the child’s room.
  7. A child wants to believe the best about both parents. Do not make mean or negative comments about the other parent’s actions or choices including moral judgments, choice of values, lifestyle, choice of friends, successes or failures in life (career, financial, relational) or residential choice. Do not criticize the other parent’s family.
  8. Encourage your children to act as if each parent’s home is their home, too, regardless of how short a time the child may spend with the other parent.
  9. Each parent should feel free to participate with the child in after school and extracurricular events as well as special events during the school day. If you can’t get along with the other parent, sit somewhere you do not have to interact with them.
  10. If the other parent sends gifts, correspondence, greeting cards, and other written materials be sure the child receives the same and lets the other parent know.
  11. Let your child have good memories. If your child brings up a happy moment in the past or present which involves the other parent, allow your child his or her happiness and do not make your child feel bad or guilty for bringing up the other parent. Do not trivialize, or deny the existence of the other parent to the children.
  12. Do not interrogate the children about the other parent or what they did at the other parent’s home. On the other hand, don’t discourage comments by the children about the other parent or the things they did with the other parent which the child brings up to you.
  13. Allow your child as much privacy as the child’s age and maturity allow in communicating with the other parent. Do not intercept, “lose,” derail, “forget” or otherwise interfere with communications between the children and the other parent.
  14. Do not use the children as a “go between” to communicate with the other parent or provide adult documents (including such items as the child support check or notes about the custody situation) to the other parent. If you are speaking on the phone with your child, do not then ask to speak to the other parent. Keep adult matters in separate phone calls at separate times.
  15. While it is natural for your children to wonder why you and the other parent separated, you should frame your explanation so as not to undermine the other parent in the eyes of the children.
  16. When talking about the other parent, do not try to influence the children negatively by manipulating, changing, or rearranging facts. Do not say or do things to try to make your child into an “ally” against the other parent. Never reward the children for acting negatively toward the other parent.
  17. Encourage your children to treat all people in the other parent’s home with kindness and respect. Teach your children that it is NOT okay to disobey the other parent, step-parents, or relatives. BUT leave open the door for them to tell you if something is going on that they don’t like.
  18. You should never try to make a child believe you love them more than the other parent. Children will draw their own conclusions as they age.
  19. Do not overindulge the children (I’ll buy the latest video game) or provide unnecessary information (other parent wouldn’t let you go to the beach with Grandma and me) or over-inform about adult topics (the judge says other parent was unfair not to let you go with me to Disneyland). Do not raise an issue which would require the other parent to change the regular schedule or plans, or which involves some activity of which the other parent may not approve with the children before speaking with the other parent.
  20. Neither parent should discuss child support issues with the children. This includes such comments as “I don’t have the money for that, you will have to ask the other parent” or “I don’t know why I have to give all my money to the other parent while other parent just sits around all day.”
  21. When your children get home from visiting the other parent, do not interrogate the children or assume the worst. Unless there is a history of violence, do not assume that the other parent has become violent or abusive. If your children tell you a reasonable explanation of how something happened, do not “rewrite” or “re-script” facts which the children originally know to be different.
  22. Do not set events or appointments on days that the children are supposed to be with the other parent.
  23. Neither parent should permit the children to be transported by a person who is intoxicated due to consumption of alcohol or illegal drugs.
  24. Do not make your children feel guilty about visiting the other parent (“It’s so lonely here without you”, “the dog misses you.”).
  25. Tell your children you love them every day.