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PARENTING HOW TO HANDLE SCHOOL-AGE CHILD DURING DIVORCE.

Byline: Greg Steckler and Gerald Deskin

Not only is divorce traumatic for the adults involved, but it is also traumatic for the school-age child. As children start school, they begin the process of becoming independent from their parents. They begin to learn how to interact with other children and adults without the immediate supervision of their parents. The result is that a child may show feelings of resentment, anger and anxiety over what is about to happen. Who will take care of him or her? What will life be like without father or mother, and who caused the problem in the first place? Children inevitably feel guilty and blame themselves, even though reassured by both parents that it is not their fault.

When to tell your child is contingent on whether parents have made a decision, not when there is a possibility of divorce. Raising children's anxiety for what may not happen is not healthy for children. Be honest and tell your child you are getting a divorce, while at the same time reassuring the child that it is not his fault.

Avoid blaming and criticizing your spouse. Children need to love both parents and not be forced to take sides. Ideally, both husband and wife should be present when you tell your children. Not only do your children need reassurance that they are not a cause, the children also need to know how it is going to affect them. In other words, will they be able to keep the same routine? The fewer changes your child has to make, the happier the child will be. If there are inevitable changes, it is best that they not occur immediately, but rather, gradually and slowly.

Parents, not children, should make divorce-related decisions. Questions as to child custody, times when the absent parent will see the child, questions of child support should all be made by parents and told to the child. This means also sharing your feelings, which may affect your behavior. If you feel depressed and your child is aware of it, it may explain your unusual behavior. In this way, the child does not feel guilty or blame him or herself.

Parents should create a situation where children are free to express their feelings. Both parents should ask how the child is doing. Listening in a non-critical and non-judgmental manner is important for the child to feel the necessary freedom to talk to you about his changing feelings. They may express feelings of rejection by one or both parents. They may blame one and then the other parent, or sometimes both, for upsetting their life. Parents who can listen in a supportive way can help their children through a difficult period, while at the same time dealing with their own feelings.

Suggestions for parents: 1. Parents, while going through their own crisis, need to be aware of their children's reaction to their divorce and be reassuring and supportive. 2. If you feel that your child is not handling your divorce well, you might seek professional assistance from a child counselor or child psychologist.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 14, 2000
Words:514
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