A divorce affects not only the parents but the children too. A divorce basically splits up the family unit that the child is accustomed to and this change creates tension and anxiety in the child. The child grieves the loss of her family unit and the normalcy of what is considered “a family” in the context of society. She will be at a loss and feeling all sorts of negative emotions too. She might even feel that the divorce has prevented her from leading what she believes is her “normal life”.
If you are thinking of a divorce or going through one now, here are some ways in which you could help your children cope with the divorce.
Tell Your Children As Soon As Possible After Both of You Made Up Your Minds
After both you and your spouse decided that splitting up is the best choice both of you have, speak to your children as soon as possible and do it together in a cordial manner. Having both parents around when speaking to the children help them to recognise that both daddy and mummy care enough to speak to them together. Speak to your children before any changes to living arrangements are made will also help to reduce the shock and fear of the children.
Your children are part of the family; hence they have every right to understand the reason of the divorce. Discuss in advance what you want to tell your children and keep to the story. Nonetheless, be as truthful as you can and choose words which are easy to understand by the children. If your children are young, using simple words such as “Daddy and Mummy have decided not to stay together in the same house” can help them grasp the idea that one parent will stay apart from them. If your children are teens or older, explain the divorce in a way that give it meaning but do not put the blame on the other parent, even if it is a case of infidelity.
Acknowledge Changes in Lifestyle and/or Routines
Let your children know that some things are going to be different from now on but other things will remain the same. Stay open to their questions and answer them as truthful as you can. If there are something which you have no answer to at the moment, reassure them that you will figure it out and let them know.
Encourage Your Children to Speak Their Minds
Let your children know that their feelings matter to you and encourage them to express their feelings about the divorce. The kids need to know that their feelings are an important part of the process, and that you care about their feelings. Encourage your children to speak by helping them to put their feelings into words. A simple statement such as “I see that you are feeling sad right now, can you tell me what is making you so sad?” helps your children to express their feelings in words that might not otherwise be expressed explicitly. When they open up, be a good listener to them, even if it is difficult for you to listen to what they have to say.
Validate Their Negative Feelings
When your children start expressing their feelings, be sure to validate their negative feelings and tell them that it is alright to feel that way. It is better to allow your children to express or vent their feelings before trying to make them feel better. In this way, no negative feelings will be bottled up. If the children express happiness or relief instead, validate their feelings too and find out if these are true expression of their feelings. Sometimes, children pretend to be happy in order to please one parent while actually grieving inside.
Be Clear That the Divorce Has Nothing to Do with the Children
Many children have the misconception that they are the reason of their parent’s divorce. In order to avoid your children doing the same, be sure to be very clear in your explanation that your decision has nothing to do with them. Repeat the reason for your divorce to them so that they understand completely why you are getting a divorce. At the same time, reassure the children that daddy and mummy will always love them and nothing will change that. It is important to explain to the children that the bonds of parent and child cannot be severed and that you will always be there for them.
Offer Support to Your Children
Even though you are going through a rough time, be sure to offer support to your children. They are going through the exact same situation as you are and they need your support. It could be as simple as sitting together in the living room watching a show, going for a walk together or doing some activities that your children like to do. By spending time with your children, you show them that you will always be there for them no matter what happens. If it is possible, allow your spouse to do the same with your children, so that they know that support from both parents remains unchanged.
Retain Routines for the Children
Routines and schedules are comforting to children going through a tough time during a divorce. Maintaining routines and schedules help the children to feel secure and safe as they know what is going to happen next. This tends to put their mind at ease that family life isn’t going to change that much. Keeping routines also means that house rules and disciplinary regulations continue as before. Do not attempt to spoil your children by relaxing the rules as this signal to them that something is going very wrong indeed.
Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is very important during this difficult period of your life as you need to cope with many conflicting emotions as well as a potential physical move. The stress that comes with all these activities break down your immune system drastically. Therefore, it is crucial that you exercise regularly and eat healthily. Avoid junk food at all cost and skip the fast food for a salad. The best way to take care of your children is to take care of yourself, so keep on treating yourself the right way. Lean on your friends and family when needed. You are not a superhuman, and you need to feel loved and supported too. Speak to your friends and family regularly to vent your fears, anxiety, anger and frustrations so that you do not do that in front of your children.
Do Not Talk to Your Children about Your Negative Feelings toward Your Ex-spouse
It is tempting to vent your negative feelings on your children especially if they are older and are offering support to you. However, it is damaging to them if you start venting your negative feelings toward your ex-spouse and blaming him/her for what happened. It will sour the relationship between your children and your ex-spouse, creating a barrier for your children to have a healthy, loving relationship with the other parent.
Do Not Put Your Children in the Middle of Your Fights
If the divorce is a nasty one, be careful to keep all fights and arguments away from your children. This is especially true if the fight is about them. Children tend to feel that they are the reason for the divorce if they keep on listening to their parents fight over them. Their self-esteem can also take a plunder if they begin to feel that they are to blame for what happened between you and your spouse. Therefore, keep all arguments and fights out of your children’s lives for their sake.
Be nice to your ex-spouse
Be nice to your ex-spouse when you meet. It is important for your children to see that you are still civil to your ex-spouse and that both of you are behaving in the appropriate manner. When your children watch that you can be friendly with their other parent, it reassures them that both parents are working together to keep some form of normalcy just for them.
All these tips are meant to help you get your children through the rough times of a divorce under normal circumstances. If your children begin to show signs of not being able to cope, or even developing depression, consult a therapist to seek professional help.