Divorce affects many different parties, and some of its worst victims are the children of the separated couple; whether young or old, a split marriage can shake the foundation of the children involved. It can be difficult to know how to help your children cope, especially when you are dealing with the divorce’s consequences as well; finding a place to start is sometimes the biggest obstacle. Below are 4 ways to help your child cope with divorce.
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Give Your Child a Voice
Not knowing how to express pain can lead to devastating actions in your children, such as angry outbursts, violence toward themselves or others, apathy toward school or other former interests, or addictive behaviors. For this reason, it is important to encourage your child to voice the emotions that come with the news of divorce. Be intentional to address your child’s feelings with gentle questioning and validation. If your child seems closed off during these discussions, being vulnerable yourself may help them to open up.
Be careful not to over-share with your child, no matter what their age, but be honest with how you are feeling in a sensitive manner; saying, “I feel sad that we couldn’t make things work,” is more appropriate than saying, “I am angry that your mother betrayed me.” When you are sharing your own feelings, be very careful to avoid blaming sentences, so as to not create resentment in your child toward one parent. A list of emotion words or pictures might be helpful for younger children to put a word to what they are feeling. This will lessen their sense of powerlessness in the situation. Put no rules on your children’s sharing, and validate their emotions with phrases like, “I understand,” or “That makes sense,” or “I can see why you would feel that way.”
Don’t Pollute Your Child’s Environment
Many children feel the effects of divorce long before the papers are signed. Fighting, negativity, and hostility are common themes in relationships ending in divorce. However, in order for your child to recover with as little damage as possible, it is important to keep your own pain in check when discussing the situation with your child. Biting words or underlying bitterness will only further complicate the path to your child’s healing process, as it can trigger guilt in children who don’t want to take sides.
Keep interactions with your ex as peaceful as possible, on your end at the very least. Do everything in your power to be the bigger person, no matter the circumstances of the separation. It’s important for you to find your own outlet for the pain or grief of your separation so that it doesn’t leak out onto your children; seek out a counselor or trusted friend for support in this time.
Maintain Your Parenting Style
Divorce can make children feel very unstable and insecure, so it is vital that you do your best to stick to pre-established routines and life as they’ve known it pre-divorce. Your children need boundaries in order to feel steady, especially in times of uncertainty and change. Giving your children leeway in areas that you normally wouldn’t is unhelpful, even though it may seem kind in the moment. Extending their freedom or taking away any duties they are used to during a time of great change will only exacerbate their fear that life will never be the same. Be firm in the boundaries you have already established, and your children will be comforted by the fact that there are still some constants in their lives.
Be Gradual with Life Changes
Divorce brings many changes to a family, and a change in living arrangement can be one of the most difficult for children. Regardless of what this change will look like for your family, try to implement these changes as gradually as possible. Be patient when dealing with your child’s reactions to these adjustments, and try to remain peaceable and understanding. If you are dealing with an unreliable ex, make sure to have a backup plan for your child if their parent fails to show up for a scheduled meeting. Maintain consistency as much as possible to reduce anxiety in your children, and contact a divorce lawyer like Lazaro Carvajal if you have any questions.
Though divorce is not easy for anyone involved, there are ways for your family to heal through support, honest communication, and consistency in other areas of life. Being as healthy as you can be will benefit your child and give them an example to follow, so do everything in your power to heal and resist bitterness for the sake of you and your family.
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