After your divorce, you might want nothing to do with your ex. Particularly after a nasty courtroom custody battle, you might be wishing that your ex would just disappear. But if you are considering the best interest of your child, you will need to learn how to co-parent.
Divorce is hard on young children. They may believe they somehow caused the split, and it is common for their behaviors to regress. However, young children are also quite resilient, and numerous studies show that most children of divorce bounce back after a year or two. But you and your ex will need to work together to help your child recover.
The first years are the toughest
Young children often experience strong feelings of anger, guilt, loneliness and shock in the wake of a divorce. Children who were potty trained may start wetting themselves again. Some children may become less verbal. Other children may act out in other ways. These are responses to emotions they cannot understand or express like adults, and it is up to you and your ex to help your child deal with these emotions:
- Reassure your child he or she is loved: You need to deal with behaviors, but you also need to remember that they stem from underlying emotions. Your child needs to feel safe and loved. The divorce was scary and destabilizing, and you and your ex need to let your child know that you love them. Do not try to undermine your ex’s love of your child.
- Address and correct feelings of guilt: Young children often feel like divorces are somehow their fault. You want to let them know that the divorce was not their fault.
- Work on your own emotional health: It is hard for us to respond positively to other people’s stress and misbehavior when we are deep in our own misery, guilt, anger or anxiety. You do not want to project these emotions to the child who needs your comfort. Many people who go through a divorce will see a therapist or look for other healthy ways to cope.
- Work with your ex to track your child’s feelings and behaviors: You can do everything possible to help your child at home, but if you and your ex have shared parenting time, you cannot be present all the time. You will not know what your child does at your ex’s place unless you communicate, and this communication is crucial to getting a better picture of everything that is happening in your child’s life. After all, children do not stop feeling things or acting out just because they leave from one home to another.
The good news is that your child’s negative feelings will fade over time, and most kids get past the shock by the end of the second year.
You and your ex are still partners
You might not be married or living together, but so long as you and your ex are both raising your child, you are partners. You share the common goal of raising a healthy, well-adjusted son or daughter, and achieving this goal means that you and your ex both need to pay attention to your child’s behaviors and emotions.