Helping your Child through Separation & Divorce
Separation and divorce is tough enough for you. But how do you help your child through separation and divorce? While adults make the choices on how they dissolve their relationship, children have little say on how separation and divorce affects their lives. It’s important to remember to create safety and stability for your children. Helping your child through separation and divorce means providing reassuring emotional support and stability. This is a difficult time for everyone. Your children are vulnerable to feeling abandoned or responsible for your marriage breakdown.
What your Child Needs from you Now
Jointly tell your children that the marriage or relationship is over
Keep this talk short and simple. Younger children do not require a lot of detail. Older children will ask more complicated questions and will need to talk more about the separation. They will need multiple talks about where they will be living and how this will work.
Keep your answers age appropriate. Children do not need to know any of the details as to why you are getting divorced. Remember your children have their own fears. Your Children need to be reassured you will be there for them even if they do not with you live full time. Be prepared to revisit this topic at other times.
Ask them if they have questions. Some children may be afraid to ask questions. Young children will truly not understand what is happening. It will take time for them to understand what separation and divorce really means. Young children will need to experience the separation before they understand the words. Expect your teens to have many questions about how this will impact them.
Maintain their usually routine
Reassure your children. Your children need to know they will be supported emotionally and physically. Try to maintain their usually routines as much as possible. This will reassure your children they can count on you for stability, structure, and care.
Be prepared that each of your children may react differently to the news and the changing situation. Some children regress and may be more clingy, others may try and take on more grown up behaviours, while some children get into more trouble and mischief in order to get express their own angers and fears. Be prepared to spend more one on one time with your children. They will need more attention and support from you during this transitional period. This is not the time for you to start dating or go on business or personal trips.
No fighting in front of your children
No fighting in person or on the phone in front of your children. While you may no longer love or get along with your partner they will always be your children’s parent. Please reframe from being critical of your ex-spouse. This can be particularly difficult if you feel betrayed or deeply wounded by your ex-spouse. You also need to tell your family members not to bad mouth your spouse in order to protect your children. Even if your partner has been hurtful or spiteful, speaking poorly about them does hurt your children. Research shows that the biggest single factor in long-term adjustment to divorce is the children’s level of exposure to parental conflict.
Allow your children access to both Parents and family members
Allow your child as much open contact and communication with their other parent. Divorce is difficult for everyone, especially for children who don’t understand why Mom or Dad can live with him or her full time anymore. Allow your child to freely contact the other parent or to talk to you about missing their parent. It’s important that your children do not feel they have to choose who they love. Asking your child to choose which parent they love more will cause hurt the relationship between your child and their parent and in the long term will cause emotional damage to your child.
Allow your child to freely express their emotions about the separation and divorce
Allow your child to freely express their emotions about the separation and divorce. Your child may express feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, or loss. It’s important that your child knows she or he can freely talk to you about how divorce has disrupted his or her world. You can help your child process his or her loss by in initiating conversations about their emotions and feelings. Acknowledge their feelings validates your children and lets them know your hear and respect their feelings.
What You need to do for Your Child
Communicate directly with your child’s parent and NOT through your child
Communicate directly with your ex-spouse. While it may be difficult to have to talk with someone you’re upset with passing messages through your children harms them. No child wants to be the messenger for Mom or Dad. Avoid putting your children in the middle of your fights, or making them feel like they have to choose between you.
If it’s difficult to be civil when speaking to your ex agree to leave voice messages, text messages or emails to exchange important information regarding your children. Do not withhold important or urgent information from the other parent. In the end, this makes you look foolish, creates more hostility between the two of you, and leaves your child in a lurch.
No spying on your EX
Don’t ask your child what is happening at Mom or Dad’s house. This causes your child to feel he or she needs to choose sides and makes them feel very uncomfortable. Children will be resentful of you if they feel they need to provide you with a report of what the other parent is doing. Do ask if they had a good time and let them know you’re happy to see them.
Leave your hostility behind
Allow the other parent to still be your child’s parent even after you have divorced and are living separate lives. Your child still needs both parents to be involved in his or her life. This means that you need to leave your emotional baggage at home or better still with your therapist. Children need to know they are still loved by both parents and they are not the cause of the divorce. For example, even if it’s painful to encounter your EX at parent teacher interviews or sporting events, take the high ground smile and be polite. Your child still needs the two of you to parent together and provide a united front in helping them grown up.
What You need to do for Yourself
Manage and reduce your stress and anxiety
Getting divorced is never quick and easy. Your children need you to provide them with support as they go through this difficult transition. Make sure to take time for yourself. You too might be finding this a difficult path to navigate no matter. Time for yourself go be as simple as taking a bath after the children are in bed, exercising, talking with your friends, or listening to your favourite music. Seek out your friends, a divorce support group for support or an individual therapist to express your emotions. Never turn to your children to discuss your marital difficulties even if they offer you support. Yes it’s OK to say you’re having a bad day or you need a hug but allow your kids to be kids.
Seek individual therapy for yourself
Seek professional help. It’s not easy to overcome your sense of loss or your children’s loss when there is a divorce. It will take some time for your kids to work through their issues about the separation or divorce. If things get worse rather than better after several months, it may be time to seek professional help for yourself and your children. Professional help may be warranted if you or your children are experiencing difficulty sleeping, withdrawal from favourite activities, inability to concentrate, frequent angry outbursts or bouts of crying months after the divorce. Keep your children’s teachers informed of your divorce so they can keep an eye out for unusual behaviour and may be able to offer your child support at school.
And seeking individual therapy for yourself can allow you the space to explore and reflect on your part in your past marriage or relationship. Everyone played a role in the path your relationship took. Having a look back can help you create stronger and more resilient relationships in the future. This does not mean blaming yourself or your Ex for the demise of your relationship but looking at your blind spots so you don’t repeat unhealthy patterns in the future.