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If you are in the midst of a divorce and you have a child, your first priority is most likely making sure that his or her needs are met. As you and your spouse make the divorce arrangements concerning custody and child support, the main concern is going to be putting your child’s best interests first. How can you do that? Read on for tips on helping your child through the divorce process and making decisions that will put his or her needs at the top of your priority list.

Make It Clear That the Divorce Is Not About Your Child

Depending on the age of your child, he or she might feel as though they did something wrong. This might be the case if your child has been struggling in school or has exhibited bad behavior; they might assume that one parent wants to leave because the child did something wrong. Your first priority should be to assure them that the divorce is not about them at all; it’s about mom and dad and their relationship no longer being suitable for marriage.

It’s important for your child to know that they will continue to have a relationship with both parents. Even if mom or dad is moving out, that doesn’t mean that they won’t continue to see the child regularly. If one parent is moving far away, it’s important to help your child come to terms with how often they will see that parent and ensure everything that is possible to put the child’s best interests first is done.

Work Together to Form a Parenting Plan

Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to get along well enough to create a parenting plan. This plan will lay out who will have the child how often and on what days. There are many different types of plans; you might choose to have the child live primarily with one parent while the other has visitation on weekends and maybe one night during the week. If both of you will be living in close proximity to each other, you might be able to switch off every few days or every other week, allowing your child an approximately equal time with each.

If you cannot form a parenting plan on your own because you disagree on child custody matters, you can see if mediation will help. A mediator can sit with both of you to iron out your differences in the parts of the divorce and custody agreement that you aren’t able to come to a fair resolution on. Both parents can seek legal representation, but the mediator will be a neutral party. Keeping your child’s best interests in mind can help you come to an amicable and fair agreement.

Find an Appropriate Support System

No matter what the age of your child, he or she is not an appropriate support system for you or for your spouse. This means that the dirty details of the divorce don’t need to be shared with them. They shouldn’t be listening to one parent complain about the other, and they shouldn’t be expected to listen to their parent talk about the ways they were wronged by their other parent. Keep in mind that your child is half of you and half of your spouse; neither of you should ever pit the child against the other.

To help you avoid using your child as a sounding board, it’s vital that you develop your own support system. Divorce can be heartbreaking and extremely difficult, emotionally, so you will need to find friends, family members, or professionals in your community who can support you. Having your own emotional needs met will allow you to keep your child’s best interests at heart. If you are able to do so, encourage your spouse to find a support system, as well. This will help both of you to be better parents to your child as he or she goes through the divorce as well.

Follow Your Child’s Best Interests: Watch for Signs They Needs Help

For your child, the divorce will be painful. This is true even if it’s relatively amicable and if you and your spouse can remain friends afterward. If the divorce is being drawn out or there are bitter feelings involved, that can be extremely hard on your child. Be aware of the signs that your child might need professional help, such as counseling. Some of these signs include:

    • Physical symptoms like stomach aches, digestive problems, headaches, more colds and viruses than usual, and a change in weight (weight gain or weight loss).
    • Sleeping difficulties, either insomnia or sleeping much more than usual. Some children also have nightmares or night terrors when they’re under a lot of stress.
    • Signs of anxiety: Racing heartbeat, breathlessness, sweaty palms, worrying about various things that might or might not happen, sleep disturbances, etc.
    • Signs of depression: Isolation, frequent crying, apathy, feeling guilty or worthless, losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, and so on.
    • Regression with potty-training, using a pacifier, or other behaviors. A temporary setback is normal, but if it persists, it could indicate a problem.
    • Poor school performance. Again, a temporary dip in grades is to be expected, but if it persists or if your child is refusing to do any schoolwork, it needs to be addressed.
    • Anger, irritability, outbursts.
    • Risky behaviors, particularly in pre-teens and teenagers.
    • Turning to substances like drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.
    • Losing friends or refusing to go places with or communicate with friends.

If you are concerned that your child might need professional help, you can start with his or her pediatrician and ask for a referral to a mental health specialist, if warranted. You can also talk to your child about healthy coping mechanisms. A new exercise routine might help; daily exercise can ward off stress and depression and might boost your child’s mood.In fact, according to this article, hiking is often very effective for easing anxiety and depression. Hiking and other physical activities are therefore, not only good for your child’s physical health but also a good means to help your child cope with your divorce.

While you’re going through your divorce, it can be difficult to meet all of your child’s best interests on your own. Try to keep an open dialog with your spouse about ways that you can keep your child’s best interests at the top of your priority list. Keep in mind that the two of you will have to work together until your child is an adult, so try your best to put your differences aside and do what’s best for your child.

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