Helping your child cope with divorce can be challenging, especially if they don’t have siblings.
What’s so different about divorce for an only child? For one thing, the child doesn’t have other kids in the same household with whom to share feelings or have private “kid” conversations. This doesn’t mean, however, that your child cannot learn to move on in life after a divorce in a healthy, productive manner.
Encourage open communication
It’s important to let your child know that they can talk about their feelings regarding the divorce, without fear of negative repercussions. If your child isn’t always comfortable sharing their thoughts with you or your ex, try to help them build a trusted network of support that includes other adults or friends who are willing to listen when they want to talk about your divorce but would rather talk to someone other than you.
Demonstrate a healthy post-divorce relationship with your ex
An only child might feel especially confused about where their loyalties should lie after a divorce. In a larger family, the idea of multiple relationships may be more apparent. For an only child of divorce, there’s a risk that they will feel disloyal to one parent when spending time with the other.
You can help your child adapt to a post-divorce lifestyle in a healthy way by setting a tone and providing an example of a healthy relationship between you and your ex. If your child sees the two of you getting along and working together as a team, they may feel less intimidated about maintaining an active relationship with both of you.
Provide coping skills, and allow your child to work through issues independently
Try to resist the temptation to overcompensate in how you engage with your child because you’re worried the divorce might be emotionally challenging for them. In reality, most children are resilient, regardless of whether they have siblings or not.
While you want to be on hand to provide loving support as your child comes to terms with your divorce, it’s also okay – and may be helpful for your child – to give them space to work through problems alone, as much as they are able. Try not to feel as though you must rush in and wipe away every tear or “fix” everything in an instant. Learning to process emotions helps children mature.
Make sure your child has a lot of social interaction
There’s no question that it’s healthy for a child to interact with friends, particularly if they have friends whose parents have also gone through a divorce. Just being around other people can help lift a child’s spirits when they are going through difficult changes in life. In addition, being around others who have gone through the same experience can help to normalize it, and make your child feel less alone.
If your child shows signs that they aren’t coping well with your divorce
Most kids can learn to move on in life in a healthy manner after a divorce, although certain issues may cause emotional distress or make it more difficult to cope. For instance, if your child’s other parent has a substance abuse problem, never shows up for scheduled visitation days or isn’t emotionally available, this can cause a tremendous amount of stress in your child’s life.
If your child’s grades are dropping in school, or they are becoming reclusive, having trouble sleeping, lacking a normal appetite, exhibiting behavior commonly associated with depression or are having another problem that you believe is connected with an inability to cope with your divorce, don’t hesitate to enlist support from grandparents, teachers, counselors or other child advocates who may be able to help resolve the problem.