Divorce is a disappointing end to a marriage. It can be devastating for the people involved, most especially for children.
Married couples often find it difficult to explain their current state to their children and oftentimes, they worry about how their separation could affect their children negatively.
Still, allow me to break the stigma: extensive research has been done and they have proven that most children have shown no significant difficulties after a divorce. Even for kids who undergo emotional or behavioural issues, the problems eventually resolve themselves quickly.
Children can survive divorce. I’ve seen a handful of children who walk into my office while they’re dealing with their parents’ divorce and I acknowledge them to be very resilient individuals.
For parents, the goal is simple: your children can survive divorce, but they cannot do it alone.
This is how you help your kids survive divorce.
1. Talk to them about the divorce and emphasize three things
Communication is a very powerful tool that helps you and your children deal with divorce. It helps when you relate to your kids the details of the divorce in an age-appropriate manner.
For younger children, you want to make sure that you emphasize three important points:
- The divorce is not their fault.
- The responsibility of the divorce belongs to the parents.
- The parents will still love them even when they’re split up.
This is just going to be the start of the conversation you and your child or children will be having. Children process information at varying speeds, so don’t be surprised if they have no questions during the “talk”, but come in later at random periods of time.
Let your kids process through the whole thing on their own. When they ask questions, make sure that you answer them in a way that will not make them feel bad or confused.
2. Validate your children’s feelings without having to fix them
Remember what I said about children processing information at different times? They can also manifest emotions differently. When children respond via anger or sadness, validate and reflect their statements by understanding what they feel and why they feel that way.
Maybe they feel angry that they’re no longer able to spend time with mom or dad together. Maybe they’re sad because they’re going to be split up with the sibling (assuming you’ve told them about custody matters).
We jump into problem-solving mode whenever our children manifest negative feelings but in this case, it’s a good idea to just step back and let kids get it out of their system.
When we want to fix our children’s distress, it’s actually a reflection of our own discomfort and may even come from the guilt that we feel about the divorce. Talking to our children about their difficult emotions can help them build coping skills and sends the message that those emotions are okay and don’t need to be fixed.
3.) Help your kids survive divorce by sticking to your routines
Divorce can lead to a life of uncertainty and instability, and for children, it’s important that you maintain your routines and other things constant as they grow older.
If you dropped off your kid at soccer practice every Saturday afternoon for the past seven years, what makes you so sure the divorce is going to stop you from doing that?
It’s important for kids to maintain connections with their groups of friends or teams because social support can be a huge buffer against stress.
However, I have to acknowledge the fact that routines are difficult to keep when the divorce means moving to a new house or district. If this does happen, try to establish new routines the soonest time possible so you can help your kids feel more grounded.
4.) Never criticize the other parent in front of your children
You don’t want your children to hate the other parent just because you yourself feel that way. Exposure to conflict can be very bad for children, and in the event that the divorce can separate children from conflict, they can fare better overall.
Don’t throw passive-aggressive statements like, “I’d know if you can spend the night at your friend’s house if your father would just pick up his phone!”, when your children are around because they are very perceptive about hostility. Remember, no matter how bad the divorce went, your ex is still the mother/father of your children.
5.) Constant affirmation is required
Tell your children that “Mom and Dad are separating and they are now working on the details. The separation is not your fault. Mom and dad still love you as much, and you will always be taken care of.”
Repeat this from time to time to assure your children they will be okay and that none of the divorce is their doing.
Children often find themselves in doubt and are often worried about the state of their lives after the divorce. Though they may process their emotions and information differently, your role as parents is to keep them grounded, or to put it simply, “to keep things together.”