Separation or divorce is a trying experience for any family, but the greatest impact is often felt in families with children. Young children are especially vulnerable during times of change – a divorce can leave a child feeling frightened, neglected, and even worthy of blame for their parents’ dispute. Children who witness a divorce may vent their emotions in unexpected – even dangerous – ways if they are unable to cope with the situation. In some (thankfully uncommon) cases, the trauma of divorcing parents can cause lifelong problems for children, making them more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors and less able to handle emotional challenges.
For parents, knowing how to talk to their children about their divorce – or whether to talk to their children about it at all – is no small concern. There is no simple instruction book for parenting your children through tough times, and it may feel as though there is no way to help them. If your child starts acting out or doing poorly in school, you may not realize that there are ways for you to help them.
Over the past few years, an Arizona State University applied research project has attempted to change the way parents think about divorce. The program, dubbed “New Beginnings,” is an educational course for parents who are separating or divorcing. The program focuses on giving parents the information and tools they need to talk to their children through the process of the divorce.
So far, the results have been tremendous, garnering national attention for the substantial long-term improvements to children’s overall well-being as a result of more effective parenting. Research (and common sense) demonstrates that more parental involvement helps children adjust after a separation or divorce, and parents who employ more effective parenting strategies see even better results. New Beginnings is designed to educate parents about these strategies and to prepare them for their children’s reactions to the separation as it moves forward.
New Beginnings is offered to mothers and fathers in Coconino, Maricopa, Pima, and Yuma Counties. The program’s administrators encourage attorneys and other professionals to inform separating or divorcing parents about New Beginnings. As interest grows, it seems likely that the program will expand, as well, meaning that parents in cities around Arizona, from the Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale Metropolitan Area to Tucson, Flagstaff, Show Low, Lake Havasu City, and beyond.
The New Beginnings program is offered free of charge to qualified applicants, as it is funded in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Parents are paid for participating in three phone interviews during the process, which allows researchers to gather information about the effectiveness of the strategies they teach so they can continue to improve the curriculum. Free child care is even offered at the small-group workshops, making the program accessible to parents who may not be able to afford similar assistance elsewhere.
If you are thinking about separation or divorce, there is a plethora of issues to consider. In the circuses of asset division, spousal maintenance, child support, parenting time, and custody, it is easy to get lost in the numbers and legal disputes and forget about the human impact that a dissolution action can have on your family. Hire an attorney who can ease the burden of handling the legal issues, then take some time to guide your children through the process. Your involvement is the best medicine for anything which might negatively impact your kids.