Many children go through the stresses of a divorce every year. When couples go through a divorce, it is common for them to feel overwhelmed by having to deal with the situation, their own feelings, and the feelings of their children, all at once. This four-part series will give you some advice on how to be a parent through a heartbreak.
Going through a divorce is hard on children, but there are several things you can do to mitigate their stresses while you focus on sorting your emotions out. Often, the initial reaction of children is shock and disbelief. Sadness, frustration, anger and worry will follow soon after, and it is important to help them through their emotions so that they are better able to cope with the stress.
4 important tips for helping your children through a divorce
1. Shelter them
Keep your children away from any visible fights or conflict, heated arguments and legal talk. They really don’t need to be hearing all of this while already trying to make sense of the situation.
2. Minimize disruptions
Do not disrupt their daily routines. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, your children need to know that your divorce is going to have a minimal impact on their daily life. Sticking to routines will help them to better adjust to all the other changes that are inevitable.
3. Cut the negativity
No matter whose fault it is or how angry you are at each other, do not be negative around the children. Keep this for private discussions, therapy or conversations with friends and family outside of the home. Your children are going to listen out every single time there’s an inkling of a fight about to break out, and the last thing they need is to feel worse.
4. Stay involved
Remember that although several things between you and your spouse will change soon, you both are still parents and will have to continue to be parents to your children. Stay involved in a wholesome relationship with your children so that they know they can still count on you to be their parent.
Most importantly, remember that you should only lean on family, friends and professionals for support through a divorce. Do not seek it from your children even if they lend an ear. They may not be able to digest the information you share with them and this can lead to added stress for them.
Bearing Bad News
Once, and only once you are certain of your plans, break the news to your children as a family. Make sure that both parents are present for this conversation and practice if you have to. Leave out details that are irrelevant and focus on how each child feels. Acknowledge their feelings and assure them that you will do everything you can to help them get through this difficult time. Leave your anger out of the conversation completely.
How you break it to your child may differ with their maturity and temperament, but you must be sure to tell them that what is happening is in no way their fault. Most kids will blame themselves even if their parents say it is not their fault, so constant reassurance is necessary.
Explain to your children that adults sometimes change the way they love each other or can’t agree on things, so they have to live apart. Remind them, however, that they will always be tied to each of you for life as your love for them will never change.
Divorce is between two parents, not between parents and children.
Give your children enough information to prepare them for the days ahead, but not too much that you overwhelm them. Try to answer questions as truthfully as possible and remember that they don’t need all the details about the cause of this decision. What is more important is how this decision will affect them.
Younger children may respond better to something like “Mummy and daddy are going to stay in different homes so that we don’t fight so much, but we both love you very, very much and this will never change.” Your older children may be more in tune with what is happening and may have more questions based on what they’ve heard from your fights so far, so be prepared to level with them calmly.
In the next part of this series, we will dive into handling children’s’ reactions and helping them cope.
If you and your spouse or children need help getting through this tough time, contact Touch Community Services for support.