A divorce is a stressful, sad, and often incredibly unpleasant time in a family’s life. While it’s tough for divorcing adults, their children also get hit hard by the changes and uncertainty this situation brings.
The impacts on youngsters and teens can be huge no matter their age or how carefully parents handle things. If you have children in your life you want to support, it pays to know some of the most beneficial strategies for doing so.
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Break the News Honestly and Carefully
You’ll help your children if you deliver the divorce news to them in the best way possible. Be honest about what’s going on and explain the situation in a simple, straightforward way that doesn’t sugarcoat things unnecessarily. Divorce impacts children significantly, and there’s no getting around that, so don’t try to make out that everything will remain the same or be all hunky-dory.
Wherever possible, both parents should be there to break the news jointly as this united front helps to comfort children. Plus, don’t keep the divorce a secret for too long and wait until just before one parent moves out or the family home gets sold, etc., to bring up the change in structure.
It’s better to give children more time to process than less. They tend to pick up on something major happening anyway, even if you don’t tell them directly. It’s better to explain things in a calm conversation than to have them overhear something not meant for their ears.
Kids naturally have all sorts of questions when they hear the news of a divorce. In particular, they’ll likely be looking for information about how the separation will affect their day-to-day lives. You might not be able to provide the details they’re after for every question right away, but preparing for some of the most common ones will make it easier for both you and your children.
Kids often want to know who they’ll live with, if they have to move house or school, and where each parent will reside. They might ask what will happen on holidays such as Christmas and Easter and vacation periods and if they’ll still get to go to camp and generally see their friends.
Many children ask about the impact a divorce might have on their favorite activities, too, such as sports, visits to museums and the cinema, sleepovers, game nights, and so on. Consider these types of topics before telling your young ones about the change in circumstances so you might have as many well-thought-out answers for them as possible. Also, be honest about areas where you don’t yet have the answers, and let them know you’ll be more forthcoming once you’ve determined more details.
It’s vital to acknowledge whatever feelings crop up for your children when you let them know the big news. It’s natural for kids to be anxious, sad, worried, angry, fearful, guilty, disappointed, and more, and they might even feel relief if things have been uncomfortable in the home for a while. Whatever emotions they experience, explain that it’s normal and perfectly fine for them to have them.
Don’t try to downplay a child’s pain, sadness, or other negative emotions. While you want to comfort your youngsters, telling them things like “Don’t worry,” “Everything will be fine,” “This will be much better,” and the like may send the message that their responses aren’t okay and they need to find a way not to upset you.
Children are entitled to feel and express whatever emotions they like (provided they do so safely, of course) and should feel secure enough to let you know without worrying about the consequences. Encourage your kids to share what they think and check in with them regularly to see how they’re feeling about the divorce and if they want to talk. Show that their emotions and thoughts matter and that what they’re going through is understandable.
Reassurance is crucial for children, too. It’s vital to reassure your kids that they will always have love from both of their parents and get to see both guardians moving forward. Marking up a calendar with a new schedule so kids can feel reassured that they’ll have time with both parents can help.
Also, reassure them that the divorce is happening through no fault of theirs. Children aren’t good at separating events from their own thoughts and behavior and often tend to think that they must have somehow caused the relationship breakdown as a result.
Make sure they understand that you and their other parent made the decision to separate and divorce because of the reality of your relationship and that it had nothing to do with your child’s actions, thoughts, or feelings.
To assist children through such a significant life change like divorce, it pays to offer them targeted support. Apart from talking as a family and reading relevant books, most kids find it helpful to speak with a therapist specializing in family relationships. Having a safe space to express their feelings freely without worrying about hurting their parents is beneficial no matter their age.
These conversations can be had in person, such as through a local parenting expert or family therapist, or even the counselor at your child’s school. Many educational institutions have set programs for kids going through a divorce that provides a support group and information.
Plus, these days, there are plenty of excellent digital options for therapy appointments with counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals. For example, look up online therapy, in California, or wherever you may be based, to find someone in your state or further afield for your child to see.
To help your children through a divorce, remain civil with your ex. Avoid badmouthing them or fighting with them in front of your kids. Keep up routines where possible to provide children with more stability, too, and be understanding if kids act out after hearing the divorce news.
Plus, don’t promise what you may not be able to deliver, especially when situations can be in a state of flux early on. Being strategic and careful about how you handle the whole divorce process will make it easier for your children to cope and adjust well.