Helping Children Cope and Deal with Divorce
A divorce, while stressful for adults, can be even more traumatic, sad and confusing for children. Regardless of their age, children may feel uncertain, angry or even guilty at the prospect of mom and dad splitting up. It is possible for parents to make the process and its effects less painful for their children. Helping your children deal with divorce means providing much-needed stability at home and attending to your children’s needs in a reassuring and positive manner. This may not always be smooth or easy. But there are several ways in which you can help your children cope.
Understand that the Divorce Will Have an Impact
The reaction of your children to your divorce often depends on their age, maturity and personality. Their sense of loss and conflicting emotions may manifest in a number of ways that even they may not understand. Expect behavioral changes. Young children who are struggling to deal with the situation often have issues with sleep or tantrums. School-age children may experience depression. It is common for teenagers involved in a divorce to act out or to rebel against their parents or teachers. Kindness, compassion and understanding are essential coping strategies when it comes to children and divorce.
How to Say it Right
It is important to strike an empathetic tone and be honest. Do not talk down to your children. Be straightforward, yet kid-friendly. Your children are entitled to the truth. They should know why you are getting a divorce. Come up with a simple, yet truthful answer. Never stop showing affection. Tell your children that you love them. It is very important that they hear it from you. Letting your children know that your love for them has not changed sends a powerful and positive message to them. You can help alleviate your children’s fear and uncertainty about the future by telling them what you know. Talk to them about where they will go to school and what their schedule will look like. The more information they have, the more comfortable and reassured they are likely to feel.
To Share or Not to Share
One of the difficult parts of communicating with your children during a divorce is deciding what to say and what to withhold. Establishing open communication channels is key during this time, but venting to your children could be a mistake. You do not have to hide the fact that you are going through a difficult time, but going into specific details with your children may put an unnecessary burden on them. While it is healthy for them to talk about their feelings, it is important that you do not express bitterness or anger toward your ex. As difficult as it may be, attempt to foster their relationship with your former spouse. This will reduce the amount of guilt or sadness they may feel over the separation. Let your children know it is natural to feel sad. Encourage your children to share their feelings about the divorce.
Fighting in Front of the Kids
Do not fight in front of the children. If you must have heated conversations, have them when your children are not around. Research shows that the most poorly adjusted children of divorce are those who are exposed to their parents fighting all the time. You do not have to be your ex’s best friend. But it is important that you take your battles away from your children. Stop fighting in front of them. Do not badmouth your ex in front of the children. Do not imply that your ex is not a good parent or that your children should not want to have a relationship with their other parent. Support and foster their relationship so that the children don’t feel guilty or uncertain about what to do or how to act.
Creating Your New Life
After the divorce, you may have to move and your children may even have to change schools. While change is often positive, it can also be very stressful. Many of their routines and habits will have to change. Make sure you help your children establish new routines and traditions. It is especially important during occasions such as birthdays and the holidays to establish traditions that help them cope with their sense of loss. There is nothing wrong in creating a cheerful atmosphere at home just as there is nothing wrong with showing your pain or grief in front of the children.
As difficult as it may be, post-separation parenting requires cooperation between you and your ex. The more guidelines and rules you lay down in the beginning will help you in the future. Discuss, negotiate and agree on who is responsible for the children’s health care, when and where the children will stay, how the holidays will be spent, where they will go to school and how their extra curricular activities and classes may continue. It is also important that they get to keep some of their old connections. Scheduling play dates with their friends would be a good idea and help them feel that their world has not shattered. When you and your ex have these types of details ironed out, it will establish a new normal for your children. They will know where they are supposed to be and who is responsible for them at all times. The unknown can be very stressful. Eliminating doubt and confusion is an important part of post-separation parenting. Security and stability are critical to help your child cope and move on.
There is no one right way to raise your child and even the most concerned parent can make mistakes. If your child is not coping well with the divorce, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. There are programs and professionals available for children of divorce as well as for parents who need support. You are not alone and it is your responsibility to ensure that your children don’t feel alone either. If you need legal advice with regard to issues concerning your divorce, please get in touch with an experienced San Diego family law attorney who will help protect your rights and your family’s best interests.