Experts say most couples—across all socio-economic, educational and racial backgrounds—tend to make the same mistakes when going through a divorce. These blunders wreak emotional havoc on your children, leaving psychological scars that can take years to heal. This week I interviewed Rebecca E. Eberlin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, family coach and staff member at the UCLA Family Commons in Los Angeles. Eberlin, who also runs “Navigating Divorce For Children” and other parenting workshops, has identified the top mistakes divorcing parents make and ways to avoid them:
1. Reacting emotionally—instead of rationally—in front of the kids.
“Parents often react emotionally because they are in so much pain or when they are in situations that are highly charged,” says Eberlin. (Examples include: slamming doors, yelling, throwing things, slamming down phones, etc.)
What to do?: Take 10 seconds to think before you speak or react—especially when you are responding to a spouse’s verbal attack or offending comment.
2. Holding serious discussions in front of the children. This can even be calm conversations about moving, finances, schooling, dating, etc. Think about the impact of insecurity and fear these conversations may have on your child listening to this.
What to do?: Stop the conversation. Figure out a way to discuss these issues away from the kids. If this means you and your Ex meet at a coffee shop, with a mediator or therapist, or on the phone after the kids are sleep: make a plan to talk away from little ears. (And if one parent refuses to play by the rules and consistently brings up upsetting topics in front of the children, Eberlin says walk away calmly or hang up the phone or skype and send a note later explaining that you need to find a better time to talk.)
3. Focusing 100% of your energy on yourself.
What to do?: Simply shift the focus on the children. Even if only one parent does this, it will help the kids tremendously, says Eberlin. “People become consumed by themselves during a divorce. They lose sight of the fact that children need to be the focus at all times. Kids need to be considered in all decisions such as where they move, how they move, when to bring in another partner, serial dating, even marrying another partner.”
4. Forgetting to help your kids better transition back and forth between homes.
What to do?: Prep your children ahead of time. Every time your child has to transition to or from dad’s or mom’s house, the parent with the child needs to prep him ahead of time. For example, if the child is going to daddy’s house after school on Friday, (after a week or two with mommy) mom needs to remind the child, at the very latest, on Thursday afternoon that daddy is picking her up at school. She should also ask what she would like to pack or bring? “The more dialogue you have about the transition, the more secure the child will be,” advises Eberlin.
5. Bad-mouthing the other parent in front of the children.
What to do?: Hold your tongue. Even if one parent refuses to behave, you can be the example by not engaging in the negativity. “I remind them (divorcing parents) your child is 50% that other person,” Eberlin says. Remember: even young children start internalizing and begin to think they will be just like the father or mother you are saying nasty things about.
Books to Read With your Children:
- Dinosaurs Divorce by Marc Brown
- The Emotes Big Book of Feelings
- It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear: A Read-Together Book for Parents and Young Children During Divorce by: Vicki Lansky
- American Girls: Smart Girls Guide to her Parents Divorce by Nancy Holyoke
Books for Parents:
- Mom’s House, Dad’s House by: Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.
- Putting Children First: Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce by: JoAnne Pedro-Carroll
- Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way by M. Gary Neuman (http://www.amazon.com/Helping-Your-Kids-Divorce-Sandcastles/dp/0679778012)
- Top 10 Tips for Divorcing Parents (my.psychologytoday.com)
- Divorced Parent Telesummit (diydivorce.typepad.com)