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Helping Kids Cope with Divorce

By Armin Brott

One of the major things you'll have to address as a newly divorced dad is how your children are going to react to the dramatic upheaval that's going on in their lives right now. Here are some strategies you can use to help your children cope:

* Be civil.
Simply put, the better you and your ex get along (at least in front of the kids) the better your children will adjust.

* Shelve your personal feelings about your ex.
You may think she was a horrible wife and maybe you're right. But none of that means she's a bad parent. So unless you're sure she's doing something dangerous or irresponsible with the kids, what you think of her as a person is irrelevant.

* Be consistent.
Kids need consistency and limits, now more than ever. But while consistency is important, don't just blindly go along with your ex's way of doing things. You're a parent too and you have an equal say in how you're going to raise your children. In addition, try to minimize the disruptions to their school, homework, meal, extracurricular activity, chore, and bedtime routines.

* Don't make any big changes.
Your breakup has shocked your kids enough for a while. Switching schools, moving to a new house, or any other major change is too much for them now.

* Get your emotions under control.
Your kids will cope with the divorce pretty much the way you do. If you fall apart or get depressed and withdrawn, they will too; if you run around blaming everyone else and acting like a victim, so will they. But if you can keep it together--at least in front of them--they will too. This doesn't mean that you should ignore your feelings and smile all the time. It does mean, however, that you shouldn't wallow in your grief.

When it's time to call in the professionals
Sometimes, despite all your efforts to help your kids cope with your divorce, your children will need more help than you can possibly provide. No, you're not a bad parent; you're just a loving father who knows his limitations.

If, for example, your child suddenly starts regressing (a return to bed wetting after being dry for a while, thumbsucking again after having given it up, becoming clingy after being having been independent, etc.) and doesn't recover within a few weeks, get him some help.

If your child withdraws from family or friends, suddenly changes friends, has wild mood swings, becomes uncharacteristically violent or aggressive, or starts having problems at school, and any of this last more than a few weeks, get him some help.

Especially watch out for your sons (if you have any). Even 4-year-olds know that "big boys don't cry" and they're likely to try to be tougher than they really should be. But exhibiting no reaction at all to your divorce could be a sign that your son isn't dealing with the situation in a healthy manner.
When looking for a therapist for your children, interview a few candidates before you make your final choice. Go with someone who has lots of experience with kids of divorce and be sure to find one who appreciates that you want to be involved in you kids' lives and supports you in that effort.

Armin Brott, the father of two daughters, lives in the Bay Area. A frequent magazine contributor, he is the author of The Expectant Father and The New Father (both from Abbeville). You can find him at

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