Divorce is one of the most difficult experiences in life. Not only is it a painful process for the entire family, but children are most often the greatest victims in the situation. There is much that can be written on coping with the process of divorce, and this will be the first of many blogs on the topic.
Below are helpful suggestions to keep in mind to help your child cope with divorce.
1. Routine - be predictable
A divorce shatters a child’s understanding of the world. What they had once thought was safe and predictable has suddenly been taken away. Parents forget that although they may have had time to think about and process getting divorced, children are often unaware of problems and are left shocked and devastated when finally told the news.
To help children in this transition keep their routines and visitation schedules as predictable as possible. Keep a calendar in a mutual place in the house where visitation can be written down. This will help children to plan for changes and feel safe in knowing when they will see either parent. Try to avoid too many unexpected changes. Especially if the children are young, or the divorce is recent, routine helps to make them feel contained.
2. Don’t allow them to be in the middle
No matter how much resentment is left between parents after a divorce, do NOT let your children become peacekeepers or messengers. Children should never be left to handle adult responsibilities which they cannot emotionally cope with, no matter how old they are. As difficult as it may be, try to communicate in an amicable manner. If this means creating a parenting plan with a mediator, or only communicating via email, choose a method that does not include the children.
3. Communicate - Be honest
Allow for open communication about the divorce. Often parents feel that they need to protect their children by not discussing negative events. However, children feel more isolated and worried when they are not given information. Initiate conversation with your children, and be honest with what you tell them. Rather give them the correct information then say nothing and allow them to create their own ‘facts’. Obviously information should always be age appropriate. For younger children, create a story with play figures or teddy bears to help them understand the concept.
4. Help them put their feelings into words
Children do not yet have the ability to verbalise how they are feeling. This is something that needs to be taught. After a traumatic event, like a divorce, children may be left with many difficult feelings that can become overwhelming. By helping children to put words to their emotions, we can tame the effect. Use emotion faces (you can draw these yourself) or create stories with different emotions as characters to facilitate understanding of feelings.
5. Don’t fight in front of them (or bad mouth the other parent)
No matter what is going within the parental unit try to not create further tension in front of the children. Children will always know that their parents do not like each other, or that they disagree on certain matters, but do not allow your child the further trauma of witnessing intense confrontation or being caught in the middle.
Furthermore, don’t speak badly about the other parent when they are not there. When parents do this, they are unknowingly making their children choose sides. By hearing negative things about their parents, you are putting the children into a losing situation. At times like these, children may become ‘chameleons’ molding to their parents ideas in order to not lose their love or attention. No matter what your intention, the impact is not worth it. If you feel your child needs to know something about the other parent, try to communicate this in an understanding and empathetic manner. Ask yourself if you would say this in a room full of people. If not, you probably should not say it at all.
6. Don’t be afraid to seek help
Dealing with a divorce is difficult for everyone involved. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Often, hearing from a neutral party can help put things into perspective. In addition, children benefit immensely from a neutral space where they can talk openly about their situation without fear. At Chevonne Powell and Associates, we work specifically with divorce cases and can always assist parents, children and stepfamilies. For further assistance with helping your child cope with divorce feel free to contact us.