Divorce is stressful for parents and children alike and although reactions will depend on a child’s age, temperament, and the circumstances surrounding the split, many children feel sad, frustrated, angry, and anxious — and it’s not uncommon for them to become naughty at home or at school because of those feelings.
Fortunately, you can help your children during this time of change by consciously minimising the tension that this situation creates, being patient while everyone adjusts to the new situation, and responding openly and honestly to your children’s concerns, worries and questions so that you can help and support them through this difficult time.
At the centre of my work with parents going through separation, divorce or break up, is my passion to help the whole family, and particularly the children, to feel nurtured, supported and heard, and for them not to be damaged or traumatised by the whole experience.
So I help parents explore ways to handle the situation successfully and confidently.
Here are some of the important things children need to hear from you at this time:
If you’re going through divorce the most important thing you can give your children is reassurance. You need to let them know that, firstly, everything is going to be okay, and, secondly, that you and their other parent still love them very much.
Lots of children feel in some way to blame for your break up so it’s vital that you dispel this belief very quickly and remove the weight of guilt from their shoulders early on in the process.
What has happened between you is not their fault.
They will always be part of a family but instead of being a family in one home, they will have two homes to spend time in.
Encouragement to talk.
It’s important for children to feel heard so try to talk openly about the situation with your children and encourage them to share their feelings.
Think about what you want say beforehand as children benefit from hearing similar messages from both of you and make sure you keep your explanations simple and easy to understand.
However, many children may not want to talk about the changes at the same time that you want to, so just be sensitive to when they appear open and ready to talk and remember that it’s important not to force them.
They will talk to you in their own time. Just make it clear that you’re always there for them.
Not being negative about your former partner
It can be tempting to criticise your partner in front of your children to get your own back on them, or to vent your own anger or disappointment.
But who is this really helping?
It might make you feel better in the short term but it’s not in the best interests of your children to encourage them to think poorly of their Mum or Dad.
Take the bigger picture and the long term view – and imagine looking back on this period in 20 years time and hearing how your children will describe it, as this will help you focus on getting it right for them.
Doing your best.
You can’t have control over everything that your children see, hear, are told or experience, but with a more detached, calm mindset you can all go through this time of change and challenge with dignity, respect and confidence.
For many adults, separation and divorce is one of the most stressful life events you ever go through as you handle and juggle custody and financial issues, as well as your own emotional roller coaster. Often this period of stress can bring out the worst in people.
So I encourage the parents I work with to find simple ways to manage their own stress, as it is essential for the entire family.
Keeping yourself as physically and emotionally healthy as possible can really help combat the effects of stress, and by making sure you’re taking care of your own needs, you can ensure that you are in the best possible place to take care of your family during this emotional time.