Divorces can take months or even years to finalize, and children often pay a big price. That’s why kids are priority No. 1 for Dallas Family Law Attorney Aubrey Connatser. She also cautions parents not to minimize the importance of mental health care for kids during a divorce.
“Divorce is a tumultuous time for families. This is particularly true for young children, because they mature and evolve so fast when they are little. It’s a time when the senses of self, ego, super ego and conscience develop and personalities are being formed. So it’s important for parents to stay in front of mental health issues in the midst of a divorce,” Aubrey says.
As one of the top family law attorneys in Dallas, Aubrey deals with child custody, child support and the general well-being of her clients’ children every day. If you’re getting a divorce, she recommends the following five resources to help kids cope and eventually thrive:
1. Counseling services.
Many children benefit from speaking with a family therapist, psychologist or faith-based counselor. Mental health professionals who specialize in divorce and other family matters can offer helpful tools and coping mechanisms for kids, especially when their lives have been turned upside down.
“So often kids feel stuck in the middle or that the divorce is their fault. Mental health professional can help kids understand they are not to blame and learn how to process their emotions. Even if the kids aren’t in therapy, it’s helpful for the parents to meet with a therapist to learn how to talk to kids in a supportive and age appropriate fashion,” Aubrey says.
To learn more about mental health during divorce, check out this recent post and video: Emotions Run Sky High During Divorce – Here Are 5 Ways to Stay Grounded
2. Age-appropriate books about divorce.
Family therapists can also recommend books for parents to read with their children. Connatser Family Law often recommends Dallas-Fort Worth psychotherapist Linda Solomon, LPC, LCDC, LMFT, to clients and families who need emotional guidance during divorce and child custody disputes.
We asked Linda to share some books she finds beneficial for her younger patients, and she suggests:
- Living With Mom and Living With Dad, by Melanie Walsh for kids ages 6 and younger.
- Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families, by Marc Brown and Laurene Krasny Brown for kids ages 4 to 8.
- Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids: Feeling at Home in One Home or Two, by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. for kids in late elementary grades and junior high.*
Coloring books that cover divorce topics can also be a helpful tool for little kids. Download this coloring book from Sesame Street for starters or check booksellers, such as Amazon, for other options. However, keep in mind that coloring is an activity the child and parent should do together.
Coloring activities also provide a great opportunity to open a dialogue with your child in a caring and safe environment. Your family therapist can coach you on topics to discuss and how to talk with your child about any concerns that come up during coloring or reading books about divorce.
3. Calendar for the child’s bedroom/s.
Calendars can help children stay organized and manage expectations. If possible, parents should set aside space for calendars (a white board will do) in both parent’s homes, so the child can refer to them on a daily basis.
“Even young children can benefit from visualizing on a calendar when they will be with each parent. It can also help older children stay more organized as they start taking more responsibility for packing their things for their time with each parent and moving between two households.
I’ve seen many parents use calendars, so the children know what days they will be at mom’s house and what days they will be at dad’s house. You should overlay those dates with other scheduled activities – soccer games, band practice, piano recital, doctor’s appointments, etc. – so the child isn’t surprised by anything on the calendar. This can really help provide consistency and lower anxiety,” Aubrey says.
4. Back-up apparel and gear for activities.
While this option may not be economically feasible for all families, storing extra clothes, undergarments, uniforms and gear for extracurricular activities (sneakers, shin guards, helmets, etc.) at both homes can give kids one less thing to worry about. It can also help mitigate some conflict between parents.
As Aubrey explains, “For example, a highly responsible, anxious child may refuse to play soccer because she’s missing a shin guard. Anything a parent can do to help alleviate stress and make life more stable and predictable helps a child cope. It can also improve the child’s ability to plan and pack as they go back and forth between homes.”
5. Scheduling tools for parents.
Keeping the lines of communication open with your former spouse can result in less stress for the child and yourself. Fortunately, plenty of parenting apps, social networks, shared calendars and other online resources are available today. A few you may consider include:
- Manage, track and pay child support: SupportPay.
- Store divorce-related documentation: The Divorce Log.
- Communicate and share photos and a calendar: SquareHub.
- Communicate, share info and track expenses: 2Houses.
- Communicate, share medical/school information and a calendar: BothParents.*
“Another program that many Dallas County Family Courts order is Our Family Wizard.* Along with offering a calendaring tool, parents can email each other through the software. These communications are unmodifiable and the system also stores a copy of any messages.
Many family courts also use Our Family Wizard, so amicus attorneys appointed to advocate for children can monitor communication between the parents, and judges can have a reliable source for documenting communication between the parties,” Aubrey says.
Learn more about the pros and cons of technology during divorce in this earlier post: Is Technology Secretly Sabotaging Your Divorce?