Divorce is one of the most difficult transitions a family can go through — and can impact a child’s mental health, behavior, and academic outcomes. With the help of Dr. Kathleen Smith — a licensed professional counselor — Counseling@NYU, which offers an online master’s in school counseling program from NYU Steinhardt, created a tool kit on divorce for school counselors to use when working with their students. While it’s a great resource for education professionals, it also provides some important tips that can help parents successfully co-parent after a divorce. Using this and other resources, we provide five of them here.
1. Identify if your child is struggling. Divorce is difficult for the whole family — but children are especially vulnerable to its negative effects. The type of support they need varies depending upon age and developmental level, as do the signs that they may be struggling. According to Dr. Smith, the following are common indicators that a child may need more support.
Ages 5–8 — a stage when children need to feel secure in their families and may feel worried that parents are going to stop loving them:
- Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
- Frequent crying or emotional distress
- Headaches or stomach problems
- Increased separation anxiety
- Regression to earlier behaviors
Ages 9–12 — a time when children are testing out new levels of independence and may take on increased responsibility for the emotional health of a parent:
- Feigned antipathy for activities once enjoyed
- Premature interest in sex
- Increased conflict with peers
- Over-functioning in responsibilities
Ages 13–18 — a time when teenagers are preparing to eventually live on their own and may take on additional adult responsibilities and may see themselves as invincible:
- Extreme negativity or criticism
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Increased aggression
- Poor academic performance
- Substance use
2. Know what your options are for support. Even if your child isn’t showing any of these signs, tapping into timely support is key — and the school counselor is a big part of that. The counselor can meet with you as a family to open up communication and help you sort through difficult issues together to better understand the impact on your child and how to keep their needs the priority. They can even offer counseling groups for students made up of other kids who are going through the same thing.
3. Understand the impact of parenting styles. It goes without saying that two people embarking on divorce hold different perspectives on many things — and how-to-parent may be one of them. Although you may not agree, it’s important to understand how different approaches could be impacting your child. Remember that living in different households with different sets of rules might only serve to undermine the consistency and sense of normalcy your child so desperately needs.
4. Make the most of special occasions. Birthdays, holidays, school and summer vacations, new spouses … they’re all land-mine-filled affairs that can stress any family. But for those occasions that have been redefined, getting through them amicably can be an especially daunting task. Regardless, you can show off your co-parenting skills by embracing these events with cooperation, cordial communication, and effective negotiations that will help put everyone at ease — and remind your child that you’re still a family that cares about each other.
5. Embrace the benefits of positive co-parenting. One of the first steps toward successful co-parenting is understanding the win-win is for everyone involved. According to Trevor Crow Mullineaux, author of Blending Families: Merging Households with Kids 8–18, when successful co-parenting is achieved, “… you give your children a far better chance at being emotionally healthy and resilient …. Children thrive when they know they have a safe, loving haven at both homes where they are seen, heard, and feel a sense of belonging.” He says having a healthy and respectful co-parenting relationship is entirely possible if both parents are willing to invest intention and patience — and put the child’s needs first.
Writer Tagline: Colleen O'Day is a digital PR manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.'s social work, mental health and K-12 education programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.