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info for families and friends

As a family member or friend of someone going through a separation or divorce, your love and support are critical to both adults and children. You can strengthen adults’ efforts to provide quality parenting, and help their children through their adjustments, too.

Here are the seven most important things you can do for them.

  1. Express your love and empathy. In the turmoil that surrounds divorce, both adults and children need to be loved and to hear that they are loved. Take every opportunity to express your love for parents and children alike, and share the safe haven of your heart with them. Add hugs too. Physical affection reduces stress and helps people to feel loved and supported. Just being there to listen is important.
  2. Protect children from ongoing conflict. One of the most destructive forces in children’s lives is unresolved conflict between the two people they love best—their parents. You can help by allowing parents to vent to you in private, but not say hurtful things about or to each other when the children are in earshot. If there is any sign that parents are engaged in openly hostile behavior or aggressive conflict,  intervene immediately and encourage them to seek appropriate help.
  3. Help children express their feelings. Brain research reveals the importance of labeling emotions. You can help children find words that help them identify their feelings accurately. Even young children love to learn and use big words. Sad, angry, frustrated, scared, confused, bewildered, and other words may help them identify the tough feelings. But be sure to help them find the good feelings, too. Happy, funny, silly, excited, joyful, proud, and many more are good ways to help children find and focus on some positives.
  4. Keep confidences. As a trusted family member or friend, you’re likely to hear an outpouring of difficult emotions and lists of real or perceived wrongs. You may also know that a divorce is in the works long before others do. It’s particularly important that children hear the news of their parents’ divorce directly from them. By keeping parents’ confidences during these difficult times, you help to protect children from hearing rumors.
  5. Promote “professional” parenting relationships. Whenever it is possible, parents need to form business-like parenting partnerships that focus on the best interests of their children. You can help your friend or loved one maintain a civil and respectful relationship with their former partner by encouraging them to think about their relationship in this new way, for their children's benefit.
  6. Encourage healthy choices. At times of great stress, it is more important than ever to find healthy ways to reduce stress. You can help your divorcing or divorced family members and friends take care of themselves physically and emotionally with adequate rest, nutritious meals, and exercise, and avoid using alcohol and other drugs to avoid stress. If you share healthy activities like an outdoor hike and/or meals with parents and children, you give them the benefit of your love and attention and at the same time help them stay well.
  7. Provide accurate understanding. In the midst of a divorce, many children develop false and harmful ideas about what caused the divorce or what will happen to them. A surprising number believe they have caused their parents to end their marriage. And most children have deep worries and fears about what will happen to them. By listening carefully to children, you may be able to learn what they are thinking and feeling, and then help them to an accurate understanding—that their parents’ problems were grownup problems and not something they caused or can solve, and that their parents will always love and take good care of them.

NAPPA Gold Award, 2010, National Parenting Publications Awards

2010 Mom's Choice Awards® Gold Recipient

Putting Children First:
Proven Parenting Strategies for Helping Children Thrive Through Divorce




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2010 JoAnne Pedro-Carroll