Thousands of children experience the stress of divorce each year. How they react depends on their age, personality, and the particular circumstances of the separation and divorce process.
If you are a parent dealing with divorce, try to remember that your child needs you now more than ever. Offering reassurance, hope, and a sense of stability can help ease the effects of divorce on children of all ages.
Dr Isolina Ricci, the author of Mom’s House, Dad’s House, says, “When children are free to love both of their parents without conflict of loyalty, to have access to them both without fear of losing either, they can get on with the totally absorbing business of growing up, on schedule.”
Divorce is stressful for children, but as a parent, you can make the process and its effects less painful. Use these tips to help minimise the negative effects of divorce on your children:
Breaking the news
Give your child a simple, but honest explanation about the separation or divorce so that they understand that it is not their fault. If possible, no matter how painful, try to tell them when the whole family is together.
Divorce is a time of change for both you and your child. Try to minimise these changes. For example, try to keep the child in the same school and home, if possible. Also allow him or her to continue taking part in the same activities.
Accept their feelings
Be available to listen. Accept your childâ??s feelings and assure them that what they are feeling, is completely normal.
Give them answers
Whether your children express fear, worry or relief about your separation and divorce, they will want to know how their own day-to-day lives might change. Be prepared to answer their questions.
Reassurance and consistency
Reassure your child early on and often that the divorce is not their fault. Tell your child you love them. Children may believe that, because their parents stop loving each other, they may also someday stop loving their children.
It’s important to set up a regular visitation schedule. Children feel most secure when they know when and for how long each visit will occur. Even if you now live far away from your children, regular contact by phone, email or skype is important to let your children know that you care.
Use consistent rules and routines with both parents, such as bedtimes, TV times and how misbehaviour is handled. Write down and exchange the agreed-upon list of rules and routines.
Try not to argue or fight with your ex-spouse while your child is listening. Experts say the amount of conflict your child witnesses during and after divorce is a crucial factor in their adjustment.
Do not criticise your ex-spouse in front of your child. Remember that your ex-spouse is still your childâ??s parent and when you criticise your ex-spouse, you harm your child. Also:
Do not use your child as a messenger to deliver information to the other parent.
Do not use your child to take revenge on the other parent by denying child support or visitation.
When you and your child talk about the other parent, be neutral and supportive of that relationship.
Do continue to parent as you always have. You may feel guilty that your children have to cope with divorce, but it will not help to shower them with special gifts or let them stay up late. They’ll feel more secure if you are consistent.
It is important to take care of yourself so that you can be there for your children. Remember to follow a healthy diet and exercise often – this will help you feel better, inside and out.
You might feel so hurt or overwhelmed by your divorce that you turn to your child for comfort, but that is not your child’s role. For help with sorting through your feelings, consider joining a divorce support group or seeking counselling.
Some children go through divorce with relatively few problems, while others have a very difficult time. Itâ??s normal for children to feel a range of difficult emotions, but time, love, and reassurance should help them to heal. If your child remains overwhelmed, though, you may need to seek professional help.
Try to bring in some humour and play into the day-to-day lives of your children as much as you can. Laughter can relieve stress and give you all a break from sadness and anger.
Every divorce will have some form of effect on the children. But, with the right support and understanding, children can also come out of it better, becoming more flexible, tolerant young adults.
Reference: Creative Interventions for Children of Divorce, by Liana Lowenstein.