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How to make a difference for a child of divorce even as a bystander

Divorce these days surrounds us. Children everywhere are affected. It affects our grandkids, our nieces and nephews, our neighbors, our students or patients, and many other kids that touch our daily lives. Sometimes on the outside it’s hard to know what to do.

After all, these kids are missing their parents. They are subjected to different rules and routines. Sometimes they are even the victims of intense emotional battles that rage between their parents. From the outside looking in, it’s a helpless feeling watching these situations. So just what can you do? Here are ten suggestions to help make a difference for a child of divorce you might know:

1. Give lots of hugs. A child who is being bounced around between homes may not be getting the kind of love and attention she needs. Don’t force it, but be ready to show affection when she needs it. Pay extra attention to the children. Mom and Dad often don’t realize how neglectful they have become and the kids need all the love they can get.

2. Listen. When a child is feeling comfortable enough to talk to you about the situation, just be there and listen. You don’t need to offer suggestions just give them a safe place to share what they are feeling.

3. Suggest a support group. If you have the kind of relationship with either parent that you can make suggestion, you may want to suggest a support group. There are divorce groups for the parents as well as grief organizations (such as for kids.

4. Don’t talk down about either parent. Children need a safe-haven for discussion and if you insert your feelings, especially negative ones, the child is less likely to feel comfortable talking with you.

5. Read together. Reading out loud can be very soothing. You may wish to include a few books on the subject of divorce or split-family living. It may be enough to help them realize the feelings they are keeping inside and begin opening up about them. It also helps them to realize they are not unique in this kind of lifestyle. If it seems appropriate give or lend the books to the parents to possibly begin their own conversation.

6. Stay neutral. No matter how bad you want to take sides, don’t. Keep those feelings to yourself and help the children feel comfortable about confiding and sharing feelings.

7. Do not get involved. Unless you are legally required to do so, do not get involved. It is very difficult to know both sides of a story, nor do you probably want to. You may some day need support from both parents for some unknown reason and you do not want to have burned any bridges.

8. Stay firm. Whatever rules or expectations were in force in your dealings with the child should not change. Softening your expectations sets the child up to use his circumstances to not be the best he can be. Staying firm can be one step that can prevent a child from spiraling into poor behavior.

9. Start a new tradition. Offer to take the child to the library and start a book club where you each pick a book for the other to read. Maybe go for ice-cream on Tuesday afternoons. Do something to reinforce your relationship with the child.

10. Learn the routine. If you show frustration with the schedules and routines, children will see that. If instead you accept the routines and try to make the best of it, you will take extra frustration out of the child’s life, and he doesn’t feel like he is doing something so unusual.

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