Children of parents who are divorcing face unique challenges. They may feel the divorce threatens their sense of security, which can leave them feeling scared, angry or worried.
The effect of divorce on children can be significant, but there are steps you can take to help your child manage the transition.
Here’s what’s happening, kids
First and foremost, be honest. If possible, both parents should talk to the children together. Try to find a place and time when everyone can gather in a comforting setting. Although very difficult, it is important to stay civil and calm when talking to the kids; avoid bringing anger or blame into the conversation.
Have a plan. When deciding what to say, keep it in terms your children can understand. Be careful not to overwhelm younger children with details, but make sure to answer any questions they may have. Older children may be more in tune with what’s been going on; encourage them to voice all their worries and concerns.
Children often wonder if there is anything they can do to get their parents back together. Do your best to help them understand that the new living arrangement will be permanent.
Do not wait until the last minute to talk to your children about your decision to live apart. There will be some disorienting changes to your children’s routines, and they will need as much time as possible to adjust to them.
Talk about the changes in your children’s lives, not your own; avoid sharing the reasons for the separation. Discussing conflicts between partners with children can be confusing to them. Calmly explain that Mom and Dad no longer want to live together.
You’re going to be all right
More than anything, your children need to be reassured that a divorce won’t change how much each of you love them. Children may worry that they’re the reason that their parents will no longer be together. They may imagine that if they had been better behaved, listened more or argued less, their parents would not be choosing to live apart from them. Reassure your children that the divorce is an adult problem, and they are not to blame.
Create your own support system so you are better able to be a source of support for your children. Don’t depend on them to comfort you. It is not a child’s job to provide adults with emotional support. Their love can help you feel stronger in the face of the challenges in your life, but friends, family and counselors should form your primary support system.
Children do better when they remain close to both of their parents. Research indicates that if they can maintain a good relationship with both parents they will have an easier time handling the disruption in their lives. Fostering open and honest communication with Mom and Dad will also help your children in the months and years down the road.
If you feel as though you are on an emotional roller-coaster, it can be easy to fall into being permissive one day and strict the next, or for one parent or the other to give conflicting messages. It is best to try to be consistent in the enforcement of family rules and expectations.
You can help your children learn to cope by developing their empathy and problem-solving abilities. Show them how to deal with thoughts and feelings in a healthy way. Attending a parent education program can help you develop skills you can use to provide the support your children need.
Children involved in a divorce are grieving, but there are many ways you can help them manage their emotions. Whether they are expressing sadness, loss or frustration, encourage them to talk it out. Your children may need your help to put their feelings into words. Be attentive to their moods and encourage them to share what’s is on their mind. Help your children understand that they can be honest with you. Whatever they tell you is okay.
Children won’t get over a divorce overnight. As they get older, new questions and concerns can arise. Continue to address those without revisiting old hurts.
You won’t be able to fix all the problems your children bring to you, but it is important that you acknowledge the challenges they are facing. Children’s trust in you will strengthen if they believe you understand what they are experiencing.
Despite their best efforts, sometimes the family needs additional support during this time of transition. As hard as you may try to be there for your children, they may not come to you with their feelings. If you provide the opportunity, they may open up to a professional who is trained to help them.
We’re here for you and your children
If your child needs compassionate support in coping with the stresses of your divorce, Therapeutic Options can help. Contact us at 972-276-9040 to learn what services we can offer.