Divorce is never easy for those involved and this is especially true for the children. Often the parents are so caught up in the emotionally charged situation that they tend to expect the children to just get by and cope as best they can until things settle down again. However, with a bit of awareness and mindfulness, as well as careful planning and preparation, parents can do a lot towards making the divorce experience somewhat less painful for their children.
These nine guidelines will give you some ideas as to how you can help your child to deal successfully with your divorce.
1. Constantly reassure your children that they are loved
It is natural for a child to feel that they are somehow to blame for the breakup of your marriage. Thoughts along the lines of, “seeing as Mom and Dad no longer love each other, maybe they no longer love me either” can silently torment a child, as they try to deal with the turmoil of the divorce. The more you reassure your child of your love the better. This will go a long way to helping them weather the stormy times. Besides saying the actual words, “I love you,” you can show your love in many practical ways by being there for your child and listening to them when they share their thoughts and feelings with you.
2. Maintain the stability of daily routines
Daily routines can be the stabilizing glue which holds things together when everything else is in upheaval mode. Simple things like mealtimes, bedtimes, getting ready for school, doing homework and watching favourite TV programs together, can give your child the sense of continuity that they need. When some changes are inevitable, take the time to sit down with your child and explain what is going to happen and how things are going to be different so that they will feel more prepared and not suddenly ambushed by the changes.
3. Minimize your child’s exposure to conflict and legal talk
Fighting and arguing in front of your child is to be avoided at all costs. The child feels helpless and torn apart when he sees and hears the conflict between his parents. Rather go somewhere away from the home to thrash out your differences and talk about all the legalities of the divorce. It is also stressful for the child to hear you discussing all the negative aspects of what you are going through with friends and other family members. So try to be sensitive to the little ears that are always listening.
4. Refrain from negativity and blame towards the other parent
When you are alone with your child and the topic of the other parent comes up, it is easy to lapse into saying negative and blaming words. This is not helpful to your child who still loves both of his parents. When you speak negatively your child may feel that you are expecting him or her to take your side and join in disparaging the other parent. This can create a lot of inner conflict and turmoil for your child. So rather try to stick to the facts and let your child reach their own conclusions about their other parent.
5. Allow your child to express how they feel
There is nothing worse than walking on eggshells and not being allowed to express how you feel. If you want to help your child deal with your divorce, you need to try and create a safe atmosphere where they are allowed to say what is hurting them, what makes them sad and what things they find frustrating. You may not be able to ‘fix’ the situation, but by making the child feel heard and accepted you will certainly be able to relieve some of the pain, and help them along the road to healing.
6. Prioritize the involvement of both parents
Your children need both parents in their lives. So if you are the custodial parent, make it a priority to facilitate the access of your ex spouse to spend time with your children. This may mean being flexible with visitation arrangements and putting up with some inconveniences for the sake of your child. If you are the non-custodial parent it is imperative that you make every effort to keep in touch with your children regularly and consistently. The best way to help your child through the divorce is to show them that nothing has changed in your relationship with your child, or in fact if it has changed it is for the better.
7. Keep visitation transitions stress free
Speaking of visitations, these can be very stressful for children, especially if there is hostility and tension between the parents at the handover. Try to make handovers in a neutral place so you don’t use the opportunity to engage negatively. Let your child see that you are willingly letting them go and that you are glad they can spend some time with their other parent. The same goes for when they return to you – make it a pleasant welcome back experience. Give your child the time and space they may need to readjust, and don’t bombard them with questions about everything they did. Give them space to tell you in their own time and way.
8. Don’t use your child as a messenger
If you have some practical arrangement or message to convey to your ex-spouse, don’t ask your child to do it. This makes them into a go-between kind of messenger which can be very awkward for the child. Rather text or email your spouse and leave your child to be a child, without expecting them to take on adult responsibilities and concerns.
9. Take care of yourself
If you want to help your child deal with your divorce you need to be taking good care of yourself. This means getting help for yourself with therapy or counselling. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat properly and get some exercise. If your child sees that you are coping well with the divorce and taking the steps that you need to take, they too will feel hopeful and know that they can make it through this difficult time with your help.