Often those who are most affected by separation and divorce are not you or your partner, but your children.
However, you can help your child cope with this process, so they can stay emotionally healthy.
Encourage open discussion
Your child is going to have a lot of emotions related to your divorce. Feelings such as anger, fear, sadness, and resentment are very likely. However, depending on their age and maturity, they might not fully recognise or understand their feelings. Yet, that does not mean that they don’t feel them. They do, even if they do not know what they are and can’t explain them.
You can help your child to cope better with the divorce by making it okay for them to express their emotions; whatever way they come out. They need to feel free to talk with you anytime, and when they do, your job is to listen. Avoid asking how they feel though. Most children don’t know how they feel. They just feel bad. Also, your child is likely to want to protect you.
Assure your child they are not to blame
Often when children experience divorce, they believe that it is their fault. They think they are to blame for their parents separating, even though nothing could be further from the truth.
Make sure you tell and remind your child that they are not to blame for the situation: it is an issue strictly between the two of you. And keep reassuring them. Young children are almost biologically programmed to blame themselves. It will take constant and consistent reassurance to convince them that’s not the case.
Avoid using your child as a go-between
While you are going through the divorce, avoid using your children as a way to gain information about your former spouse. It’s unfair to your child and very damaging for them as they feel conflicted, torn between the two of you. You are also sending them a strong message that you don’t care about them: you care more about getting back at your ex.
Instead, use the time you have with your child to focus on them and to support them, rather than using them as pawns.
Don’t bribe your child
It is an easy out for divorcing parents to want to spend more on their children. Often, parents do it so that the children don’t feel as bad about the divorce. Maybe you try buying new toys, clothes or a ‘getaway’ holiday. Yet, these only serve as distractions. Your child is still going to be hurting inside.
Remember, children are often much more perceptive than you realise. They will know that what you are doing is mere bribery. Also, ask yourself if you are doing this to make them feel happy or for yourself. Is showering your child with gifts a way of making you feel less guilty for what you have done? Or is it another way you are trying can get one over on your ex, especially if they don’t have the money to do the same.
Instead, spend quality time with your children, giving them your attention, rather than things. It’s the time spent with you they will remember and treasure through their lives, not the latest trainers, iPhone or whatever you bought them.
Think back to a happy memory from your own childhood.
What did you think of? It’s a reasonably safe bet that it was a memory of time spent with someone you love, rather than something someone bought you. Your child will be the same. Make good memories, now.
See past difficult behaviours
During a divorce, your child might act out in ways they didn’t previously. They could become defiant, resistant, and decide not to listen to what you tell them. Don’t get caught up in this behaviour. It is still essential to hold boundaries and create structure.
Thus, recognise that this is another way that your divorce is affecting your child. They are experiencing a loss which is shaking their world down to the core.
Gently and sensitively listen to your child, but continue to maintain clear boundaries. While your child might rebel against them, it’s these constants that give them stability and security, even if they don’t realise it.
Tell your child the truth
Be honest with your child about why you are divorcing. Frame it in a way that they will understand and is appropriate for their age. For example, you could say that both of you are always angry at one another, which makes it hard to live together. However, ‘telling your child the truth’ is not an excuse to bad-mouth your ex.
If possible, agree with your ex what you will tell your child and how you will frame it. Ideally, have the conversation together with your ex, so your child knows you are both saying the same thing.
Remind your child you both still love them
It may be hard for them to understand that you still love them, while their family is being torn apart. Yet, they need to hear it, nonetheless.
Make sure that you and your spouse have the same message. That is, eventhough you are no longer together, you both still love your children.
You might find it helpful to speak with a therapist during this hard time. There are many ways that they might help.
They could see you alone, to help you manage the painful and complicated feelings you are experiencing. As you feel supported, you can provide better support for your child.
Alternatively, they could see you together with your ex, to help you agree on a way forward as you work together to support your child. Counselling, in such circumstances, would be focused on helping you both support your child–it would not be about reconciliation.
It might also be appropriate for your child to attend therapy themselves, to help them process their feeling and come to terms with their new situation. This option might be more suitable for older children, though play therapy might help younger ones, too.
Taking the next step
A divorce redefines your child’s world and can shatter everything they once thought was stable. Thus, it is critically important that you support your child emotionally during this demanding time. That way, they can better cope with the situation and be able to move forward.
If you would like to talk with someone about how therapy might help you and your child, why not call us today on 0151 329 3637 or email firstname.lastname@example.org? We would be happy to discuss options with you and making the call does not commit you to start therapy. Call today.
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