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On the Rocks

As we explore romance and Valentine's Day this month, there is another side to marriage we must address -- what happens when you end it, and how does it affect the children involved?

Dr. Karen Miller, a clinical child psychologist in Jupiter, shares her perspective 
on divorce.

Q: What’s a gentle way to break the news of a divorce to a child?

A: Under ideal circumstances, both mom and dad together would sit down with all the children and let them know that they have decided to get a divorce. That way, the children are hearing the same message from both parents, understand that they can talk/ask questions to both parents, and that their siblings are hearing the same message and can lean on each other during the process. Both parents should attempt to take responsibility (not easy!) and refrain from blaming each other.

Q: What red flags that a child is seriously struggling with a divorce should parents be on the alert for?

A: It is important to pay attention to any small changes in a child’s behavior. Communicate with a child’s teachers and alert them to the changes in the home so that he/she can be vigilant about picking up on small changes. Although often difficult, it is important for the mother and father to communicate with one another about the children so that they are aware of the behavior in both households. The behavior should be addressed in the same way across households. Also, a structured schedule is important for predictability and consistency in a child’s life at a time when they may feel quite the opposite.

Q: How does having divorced parents during childhood affect an individual in their adulthood?

A: There is a misperception that experiencing their parents’ divorce is traumatizing to a child and that it has a huge impact on them later in life. This certainly can be true if the parents do not pay close attention to how they are communicating with their children following the divorce. Parents who consistently blame the other, villainize the other, and blur their boundaries with their children (talk with them like peers/friends rather than maintaining the parent/child relationship) often contribute to poor adjustment in their children with problems in their adult life. However, if the parents are able to make a joint decision that is in their best interests, dedicate themselves to maintaining strong communication with their children, and are able to take responsibility for the failed marriage … the children are often as well-adjusted as their peers in adulthood.