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Traps Divorced or Separating Parents Should Avoid

​If parents want to be sure that children rebound as well as possible after divorce, they can work to avoid some common, major traps.

Avoid Putting Children in the Middle

First, it is vitally important that children not feel caught in the middle between parents. Divorced and separating couples often harbor a lot of resentment toward the former spouse. Children should be spared from witnessing hostility between 2 people they so deeply love. Even fine people get ugly during these fights, and this is very confusing to children. Words spoken in anger might be seared into children's memories and interfere with their ability to remain close to both parents.

Avoid Talking Poorly of Your Former Spouse 

Use every ounce of restraint not to tell your children how you've been hurt by your spouse. Remember that it is important that they can continue to relate well with both parents. They need to be able to see either parent without worrying about hurting the other or leaving the other feeling jealous or angry. Children have to be able to continue to build a relationship with each parent without feeling disloyal to the other. (This assumes that both parents have reasonable capabilities to care for the children.)

Even if communication is at a standstill between spouses, children should not be used as go-betweens or pumped for information as they move between homes.

Because children are a combination of both parents, some kids worry that if their mother rejected their father or vice versa, they will be rejected if they act like the "offending" spouse.


On many occasions, I have met parents who dislike attributes in a child who reminds them of their former spouses. This is very dangerous for the child's well-being. If you ever feel the urge to say in anger, "You are just like your father/mother!" stop yourself in your tracks. Children who hear that not only feel ashamed, but they also wonder when they will be rejected.

Let Kids Be Kids

Finally, it is also important not to force children to grow up too soon. Separated or divorced parents sometimes turn to their children for emotional support. Even if they express that they want to help you, do not expect your child to comfort you. Parents are the ones who should be offering comfort and support to children to alleviate their fears and enhance their sense of security. It can be very confusing for children if they have to assume a caregiver role for a parent.

Be careful not to make statements to older children like, "You are the man of the house now." That can put an unreasonable amount of pressure on children and leave them feeling guilty when they are unable to fill that role. You can let them know how important their contribution is to the family by saying, for example, "I need you to help me make sure that your little sister is handling this." That's fine as long as you also check in with that older child about his well-being too.

Creating Shared Experiences—No Matter the Distance

No matter how amicable a divorce, parents struggle to honor each other's desire to spend as much time as possible with their children. When they are separated by distance, this is particularly difficult. Telephone calls, video chatting, and conversations by social networking sites or e-mail can keep parents and children close, but that kind of communication often feels unsatisfactory. Although it allows parents to stay informed, it may not fill their need to experience life more directly with their children.

The most important take-home lesson is that for children to be able to rebound from divorce, it is vital that they know their parents will go out of their way—no matter the distance—to include them in their lives as fully and as often as possible.

Additional Information:

Elyse C. Salek, MEd and Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP
Last Updated
Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, 3rd Edition (Copyright © 2015 Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP, and Martha M. Jablow)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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