12 Simple Ways to Help Children Through Divorce
Divorce and separation changes the dynamics for a family. Often the parents are so wrapped up in their own emotional turmoil that the children are sometimes the forgotten victims. Here are some simple ways to make sure that you parent effectively and assist your child through the changes of separation:
- Support the relationship that they want to have with their other parent. Don’t force the relationship upon them. It is suggested that instead of leading the child, walk beside them without judgement. For instance, if a child is forced to speak with the other parent on the phone when they don’t want to, they will continue to resist for a longer period, rather than coming around in their own time.
- Validate their feelings. Allow your children to celebrate or grieve the new situation. Use emotion coaching by repeating their feelings back to them. Often children will elaborate. If they don’t, then re-direct the conversation. E.g. Child: “I am not happy!” Parent: “So, you aren’t feeling happy…” Child: “yes, because …”
- Allow children to express themselves. All children are different. Some are better communicators than others. If your child’s forte lies elsewhere (other than communication) encourage them to express their feelings in other ways – perhaps it is through exercise, dance, singing or drawing. If you child is crying or grieving, allow them the time and space to cry and express their feelings. Avoid shutting down the flow of emotions.
- Love unconditionally. Make sure your children know that you love them, no matter what. Whether they are happy or sad, struggling or thriving at school, making mistakes or hitting milestones… and in particular, don’t make your child feel uncomfortable about loving their other parent.
- Prioritise family time. Whatever you are going through, make sure that you find time to play, connect with and love your children. If you are the type of person to obsess over a clean house, put it to the side and enjoy time with your children. Some activities you can do include: playing a board game, family movie night, converse while eating dinner together as a family and have family outings.
- Keep your opinion of the other parent to yourself (especially if it is negative). Similarly, don’t let other people put the other parent down in the children’s ear-shot. Remember - your child is half of the other parent and you don’t want the child feeling poorly about themselves or the other parent.
- Refrain from Interrogating. After your child has been with the other parent, don’t cross-examine them for information and details. It can build resentment towards the question-filled parent. Children are not our conduit for information and they are not to play messenger between parents either. Instead of interrogating, create or implement a better communication tool between the parents for an understanding or update of recent activities for the child.
- Create a united front. Regardless of whether you and the other parent are getting along, by creating an appearance that you are both on the ‘same page’ with certain matters, creates a positive co-parenting image for the child. This helps the child to feel more safe, calm and less anxious. E.g. “Your dad/mum and I have agreed that your bed time is 7pm.”
- Deliver on promises. Whatever you say to your children, make sure that you follow through. Be it a visit, a phone call, a present, a meal – whatever you have said to your child, make sure that you deliver your statement. If you can’t, then don’t say anything at all.
- Arrange for counselling. Children, like adults, need a safe space to express themselves and receive strategy for their feelings. There is nothing wrong with receiving some counselling or advice from a paediatric psychologist to assist the child through a situational challenge.
- Future-proof relations. How you behave towards the other parent is laying the foundations for how your children will have future relationships with the opposite sex. You don’t just have a son or daughter, you are raising the men and women of our future.
- Acknowledge the other parent on special occasions. Help your child buy a present for their other parent for their birthday, Christmas, Mother’s or Father’s Day. Even if the gift-giving isn’t reciprocated, the children love the process of choosing, buying and giving gifts, especially the expression of delight from the other parent. If the budget is tight, don’t spend money, get the children to make a card and create something special. Remember - it is not a present from you, it is from the child.
What you do today to assist your child through accepting the changes that are associated with divorce, helps to create a better adjusted, emotionally intelligent and happier child. At the same time, you are modelling positive parenting and your children in 10 or 20 years will thank you for your efforts.