Separation or divorce is not easy for anyone involved. You, your spouse and your children will all be experiencing their own issues surrounding the situation.
Many times children are left to deal with a lot more than you, or they bargained for. Which doesn’t just include coping with one parent moving out – but also involves dealing with their compassion for the sadness of their parents, fear for their parents’ wellbeing, unanswered questions and even becoming the caregiver.
Of course, all of these issues, if not handled correctly, can significantly influence a child’s undeveloped brain and emotional system and cause them to go through the unnecessary hurt and upset and resulting in low confidence.
No parent wants to put their children through such a difficult time, so in the case of separation, here’s how you can build confidence in your children during separation.
1. Make your children feel emotionally held
When you are not ok, your child is going to be concerned for you.
Sometimes it’s easy to allow your child to give you the love and support that you crave. But in doing so, they are holding you emotionally and not the other way around.
Making a child feel emotionally held is a classic therapeutic approach to trauma recovery and if everybody, adults included, felt emotionally held, they would feel safe, secure and confident in their experience of the world.
It’s not a child’s job to support you emotionally, it’s your job, as parents to make your children feel emotionally held even if you don’t feel that way.
To do so, you just have to reassure them, check on their feelings, avoid crying to the children about your problems, allow them to talk to you about how they feel and reassure them if they do see you crying or upset.
Even symbolic activities such as buying or picking out teddy bears for each family member (your spouse included) can help.
To do so, have each family member loving the bears that represent the parent or child, and then swapping over every day will allow the child to care for you and your spouse in a way that is age appropriate for them while symbolically receiving your love and care through the teddy bears too.
2. You can never love your children too much
Some people seem to think that they shouldn’t express too much love to their children because it might spoil your child or make them weak.
Healthy expressions of love and compassion (which don’t involve buying things as an expression or giving in on your boundaries) as much as possible will help your child grow confidently and enable them to navigate the change they are experiencing in their home life.
This is a tactic that would help any child build confidence even if there was no separation in the family unit.
3. Explain what’s going to happen regularly so that they feel secure
When your routine is changing, it can make a child feel insecure because they don’t know what is happening day by day, whereas before the separation they were used to your regular patterns in life.
Help them out by trying to keep them in a routine as much as possible and by writing out a short timetable for the week and day ahead. Explaining where they are going to be, what they are going to be doing and who with (e.g., which parent or family member will be with them).
Build even more confidence in your children during separation by adding the absent parent to the schedule so that the child knows where that parent is and what they are doing as it will hold them emotionally and reassure them.
Make sure that the schedule is placed in the homes of both parents so that it becomes something that the child can rely on when they are feeling insecure either internally or about you and your spouse’s happiness and wellbeing.
4. Be honest but remember to explain things in a child-friendly way
Children know more than most people give them credit for, but this situation is ironic because while they know the truth, which is more than you realize, but they don’t have the emotional intelligence to handle what they know in the same way an adult does, adults often forget this.
It’s important to explain what is happening to your children including addressing why you are sad but to also reassure them that the sadness will pass and that you are ok. The same with explaining why you are separating.
Show them how to address their concerns with you, and teach them how to express their emotions to you.
A simple chart with faces that represent different emotions that can be tacked to the chart will help them express to you how they are feeling, and will then open the floor for you to discuss those feelings with them.
This strategy will also help you know how to reach your children appropriately and will reassure you that you have managed to remain connected to them and protective of them emotionally during a turbulent time for you all.
5. Allow your children to contribute but manage how they contribute
An undeveloped child who witnesses their parents in distress will feel distressed, even if they don’t share that with you. All of the points above will help to calm the child and make them feel reassured, but the other thing that a child will want to do is to help.
Some parents during a separation or divorce will just let the child do as much as possible to help, and others won’t allow them to lift a finger.
Both of these strategies don’t help the child. In the first instance they are emotionally supporting their parents more than they can handle or should handle and in the latter, they will feel helpless and even potentially worthless.
Allow your children to contribute, just by saying simple things like, mommy needs your help at the moment, so in the mornings now, can you help me make your bed or I’d appreciate it if you made your bed, and we all have some chores that we can do together to help keep the house nice.
Then you assign the children age-appropriate jobs (such as clearing or wiping the table after dinner), putting their toys away, etc. And when they have done so, remember to hug them and let them know that they’ve been a great help and that you love them very much.
This is a great way to help them find a way to express their desire to help you but manage it in a way that doesn’t make your life too challenging at a difficult time.