Divorce and separation can be very difficult for all those concerned but imagine being kids during this time. They don’t get a say, they don’t get to have all the information we as adults do. It’s hard enough for the adults concerned but for children, it can be extremely hard when your parents decide to split, these are the two people they love most in the world and now they don’t even live with you all the time. Your world gets turned upside down. So how can we adults help our child understand and cope with all these big changes?
How to Help?
- Be very patient, offer reassurance and listening ear – can minimize tension as your children learn to cope with unfamiliar circumstances.
- Provide routine your kids can rely on – they need to count on you for stability, structure, and care.
- Maintain a working relationship with your ex, (where it is safe to do so. See Refuge for further advice) with your support, your kids can not only successfully navigate this unsettling time, but even emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.
Initially, What Do I Tell My kids?
- Tell the truth. But keep it age appropriate. Don’t make it too long-winded either, keep it simple. Be patient as I’ve said they may need you to repeat why you have separated on more than one occasion.
- Say “I love you.” A simple message but one that offers them reassurance and one they need to hear most of all from both of you.
- Address changes. Changes are happening, some may have already happened very quickly. They need to know that you as adults can help them with those changes. Pre-empt any changes that may occur and prepared them for it. Make sure they understand you have their best interests at heart (which I know you do but which they need to hear you do). Change for anyone is scary.
- Avoid blaming each other in front of the children. This will only damage your long-term relationships with them further. Keep fighting to another place and time please and certainly not in front of the children.
- Present a united front. As much as you can keep the same house rules in both homes. Children need consistency. And yes they will learn to play you off one another, but this is not good for them in the long run.
- Plan your conversations. Talk to the children together, if possible, about any changes and what will happen next for them.
- Show restraint. Be respectful of your spouse when giving the reasons for the separation or divorce.
What your children need you to know.
- I need both of you to stay involved in my life. Please keep in touch with me and ask me lots of questions. When you don’t stay involved, I feel like I’m not important and that you don’t really love me.
- Please stop fighting and work hard to get along with each other. Try to agree on matters related to me. When you fight about me, I think that I did something wrong and I feel guilty.
- I want to love you both and enjoy the time that I spend with each of you. Please support me and the time that I spend with each of you. If you act jealous or upset, I feel like I need to take sides and love one parent more than the other.
- Don’t use me as a go-between or as a pawn. This only makes me feel like I need to take sides and love you more than I do my other parent.
- Please communicate directly with my other parent. About any changes that are going to take place or if I’m having a bad time at school or with friends.
- When talking about my other parent, please say only nice things, or don’t say anything at all. When you say mean, unkind things about my other parent, I feel like you are expecting me to take your side.
- Please remember that I want both of you to be a part of my life. I’m counting on both of you to raise me, to teach me what is important, and to help me when I have problems.
- I may have angry feelings. I may express my anger, rage, and resentment with you. That’s okay I have to grieve too just like you. I need you to love me throughout it all and help me when my feelings scare me too.
- I may get anxious. It’s such a big change for me I need your reassurance, patience and love to support me.
- I may get mildly depressed. Please help me see that all these changes are going to be okay and take me to see a counsellor or doctor if I need to.
- Please get help too and talk to your friends. I need to know you are okay too. I can get frightened if I see you aren’t coping well. I need you to talk about my other parent with your friends and not treat me like them and tell me everything you would normally tell them.
- I don’t need you to spoil me I just need you to be there for me. I need your time not loads of gifts.
After the initial separation, how can I help my children?
- Listen. Encourage your child to share their feelings and really listen to them. They need to grieve this as much as you do.
- Help them find words for their feelings. It’s normal for children to have difficulty expressing their feelings, again this goes to my first point here listen to what they are saying or if they are using other means of communicating with you.
- Let them be honest with you. This can be hard for them to do sometimes but with patience, they will do that. Remind them that you will be here for them no matter what.
- Make talking about the divorce an ongoing process as they grow up. Children as they grow, may express or raise questions about what happened with you, don’t be surprised if you have to repeat what you told them again years later.
- Acknowledge their feelings now and into the future. You will want to wrap them in cotton wool, no matter their age, but unfortunately, you can’t. So allow them to talk and acknowledge their feelings even if it hurts you to listen.
- Let kids know they’re not at fault. This is extremely important! Some children will blame themselves even though the split has nothing to do them. You need to let them know that and remind them you love them.
- Give reassurance and love and let them know you are both there for them always.
- Provide stability and structure as I said keep the same house rules in both homes and allow them to see their friends and all family members.
Taking care of yourself should also be your concern now.
You cannot look after someone else unless you look after yourself first and part of that will be to get counselling to help you grieve the loss of your marriage.
- Get counselling to help you grieve this loss.
- Get legal advice (and a barring order if appropriate Keep safe always.)
- Exercise often and eat a healthy diet.
- See friends often. It can be tempting to pull the cover over your eyes but you need a good friend to chat to about everything that’s going on. Be careful here and choose your friends wisely.
- Keep a journal. Writing down your feelings, thoughts, and moods can be extremely helpful in your recovery. But keep it locked up and away from the children.
- Never vent negative feelings to your child your friend and therapist are there for that. You will only damage your relationships with your child.
- Keep laughing. Injecting humour and play into your life your children lives as much as you can; not only will it help relieve stress and tension but they’ll have some great memories of your time together too.
- Make new memories and traditions. You will need to learn to compromise around holidays in particular so why not make it special for your children.
Working with your ex may be hard work or does it have to be?
I know you’re hurting right now but don’t have any fights in front of your children. Conflict can be very damaging for them.
- Take it somewhere else. Or better yet allow the solicitors to do their job if fighting is getting out of hand.
- Use tact. Refrain from talking with your children about details of the other parent’s behaviour.
- Be nice or at least be polite in your interactions with your ex-spouse.
- Look on the bright side. Choose to focus on the strengths of all family members. Encourage children to do the same.
- Work on it. As long as you have kids together you will meet up in the future – family events – make it about the children not about the two of you. Remind yourself: what’s best for your kids in the long run?
- Think ahead in order to stay calm. Plan out how you will deal with certain situations as they arise and how you will deal with them. If your ex, keeps starting an argument walk away, your children will see this and come to realise who is at fault. Let the solicitors (lawyers) do their jobs!
- Consider your own serenity in all this. Do you really need all this conflict to go for years to come?
Professional help for kids following a divorce
Some children go through a divorce with only a few problems, while others have a very difficult time. It’s normal for kids to feel a range of difficult emotions, but in time and with love and reassurance they should heal. If your kids remain overwhelmed, though, you may need to seek professional help.
Red flags for more serious problems
If things get worse after several months, it may be a sign that your child is stuck in depression, anxiety, or anger and could use some additional support.
- Sleep problems
- Poor concentration
- Trouble at school
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Self-injury, cutting, or eating disorders
- Frequent angry or violent outbursts
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Refusal of loved activities
Discuss these or other divorce-related warning-signs with your child’s doctor, teachers, or consult a child therapist for guidance on coping with specific problems. The Lucena Clinic can be very helpful or you can find a private child psychologist at PSI.
We offer to counsel those going through separation and divorce.
Please Call us today on 089 4373641 for an appointment.