Divorce is hard for everyone involved. Yet, whilst you and your ex-partner may be entirely ready to separate and move on, it is likely that your children will not be as keen. The decision is out of their control and they will understandably find it hard to deal with.
Knowing how to guide our children though this difficult time is paramount. Every separation and every child is unique, so actions and reactions will vary, but here are our suggestions to help your child deal with divorce.
- Lower the conflict
In many cases, it is not so much divorce that affects children, but conflict. It is possible that your child has witnessed high conflict between you and your ex. Now is the perfect time to role model to your children what a low-conflict, healthy relationship can look like between separated parents. If children can see their parents communicating successfully they will feel safe and loved.
- Prepare for phases
Every stage of life is a phase and with children even more so. Coping mechanisms which work one week, may fail the next. Our children are easily influenced by their daily interactions, be that friends, family, school or social media. Be prepared to step-back or step-up depending on what they need from you at any one time. Accept the stage they are at and do everything you can in that moment to help them.
- Give them time
Divorce is a big thing in kids little worlds. Even though you may be busy planning your divorce party, your child could still be grappling with the concept that mum and dad no longer love each other. Understand that their healing may take longer that yours and never make them feel rushed to ‘get over it’. As they grow and become worldlier, they may question your separation in a different way. Always be ready to answer their questions with empathy and respect.
- Watch your words
One of the biggest mistakes you can make during a divorce is to put down the other parent. This is simply a ‘no-go’ area. No child wants to hear one of their parents being disrespected, ever. It will confuse, upset and may make them feel the need to take sides. Always be kind, and diplomatic about your ex-partner when talking directly to your child and when they are within earshot.
- Communicate on their level
How we deal with divorce is entirely different to how our kids deal with it. Our own coping mechanisms may be way over their heads. Make sure you reach your children on a level they understand. Books about divorce and separation can be particularly useful to normalise their situation and make them feel less alone. They can also encourage a conversation around divorce that had previously been difficult to broach.
- Ask and listen
The process of divorce can be chaotic. Whilst you and your ex are dealing with the practicalities of the financial separation and possibly moving house, even schools, your child may feel out on a limb. Always ask them how they feel and, more importantly, take time to listen to what they say. Just being heard can be hugely empowering and will give them the strength to cope and the understanding that you care and are there for them.
- Alleviate the blame
Unfortunately, the first reaction of many children faced with the separation of their parents, is to blame themselves. It is especially true if they are struggling with the concept of the separation. They simply can’t understand why mum and dad would stop loving each other so they find another culprit for the tragedy .. themselves. This can be pre-empted by communicating with them right from the start. Explain to them what is happening and why, driving home that it has absolutely nothing to do with them.
- Love them even more
Witnessing the separation of their parents, can make children question the flow of love within their family. ‘If mum and dad don’t love each other anymore, have they stopped loving me too’. Make sure your child feels more loved than ever during the difficult times, don’t just assume they know it. There are so many wonderful and fun ways you can show your child you love them, including extra cuddles, notes in their lunch boxes and time spent exclusively with them.