Going through a divorce is oftentimes difficult, stressful, expensive and draining both physically and mentally. Though the divorcing couple will experience these effects directly, the toll that this process can take on the children involved can perhaps be overlooked.
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We want to take some time to explore some of things that children may experience during a divorce process and offer some ways to help them cope with the difficulty attached.
Telling Your Children About The Divorce
The first bridge that you will have to cross is telling your children about the divorce. There is no set method to any of this, however we can offer a few tips on how to best prepare for this very heavy scenario.
Finding The Right Time
Once you and your partner have come to an agreement and decided to continue with your divorce, you need to tell your child or children. This does not need to come in the immediate aftermath of your decision but the sooner you can broach this subject the better.
This conversation can be upsetting, emotional and unpredictable so your best course of action is to only begin this conversation when you are both ready. Going in prepared, knowing what you want to say and being prepared for difficult questions can help to cushion the blow for both you and your children.
Honesty Is Always The Best Policy
From the very start, you need to be as honest as you can be (not just with your children but also with your former partner). Everyone involved deserves the right to know why this is happening and even if a child may not necessarily understand the answer, they may still ask the question.If you don’t believe your kids are mature enough to hear your reasons for divorce, you and your former partner need to agree on a response that is simple but inoffensive. Today’s Parent has a great guide on how this conversation can differ from age to age.
Don’t Hide From Changes
Your children always need a structure but with a divorce, there is a great risk that any structure may become redundant. As changes to structures and routines may be one of the things your children first asks about, outlining what may change and what will stay the same can be one way to calm your child down and alleviate some of the stress. ‘I will be here to do x, but I will no longer be here to do y’ for example.
Helping Children Through A Divorce
As painful as going through a divorce with your former partner may be, understanding what your child needs and wants during this process is of paramount importance. While they may not be able to accurately explain their feelings and emotions (or may not feel comfortable doing so) there are several things that you should avoid doing or saying to your child throughout the process.
Avoid Being Absent
Divorces can be a very lonely experience - this can often be your choice as well. The toll of having to deal with an unpleasant situation can be a very valid reason for wanting to be by yourself for a while. Your child will need attention, though - if anything, they will need it more than ever. Avoid being distant or cold as the last thing that your child will want is to feel unimportant or secondary.
Don’t Make Them Pick Sides
All of these points apply to both parents but this one in particular should resonate. Your child needs to feel supported and cared for equally. Getting them to pick a favourite will cause more harm than anything further down the line. Avoid saying negative things about the other parent at all costs as expecting a child to pick sides is unfair. For the sake of the children involved, communicate clearly, fairly and evenly.
Avoid any chance of blaming your child
Couples divorce for a number of reasons - it is complicated and tiring and can more often than wear you down to your most vulnerable. In spite of this, you should never direct any of your frustrations at your child or suggest that what is happening is the result of their actions. Most children are unlikely to understand the complexities involved or the reasons for a divorce taking place to begin with. But one wrongly worded sentence could be all it takes for a child to feel responsible for the entire situation.This is where you need to work together as a couple (and as parents) as to how to communicate equally with your children. Though you may be in disagreement about many issues, you must find a common ground when it comes to talking with your children. Relate have a very thorough guide on how to best manage your communication and conversations with your children.
Helping Your Child After A Divorce
No part of this process is easier than any other. It is an ongoing struggle that can at times resemble grief. Helping your child through this process is far from simple but it can be made simpler by knowing how to approach it.
Help Your Child Talk
Finding the words to describe emotions can be a challenge for everyone but in particular for younger children placed in an unfamiliar situation. You can help them to express themselves more clearly by recognising their mood, changes in their behaviour, how they currently talk etc.
By engaging your child in a dialogue, you can create a safe environment for them to speak their mind. We have provided a list of reputable charities and helplines, focused on helping children through challenging situations such as this.
Give Them Time And Space
As we mentioned, the prospect of a child’s parents divorcing can be similar to grief and this can manifest in a number of ways, as such it is important to not rush them into a conversation they are not ready to have.
Giving your child time and space to collect their feelings rather than immediately prying answers and emotions from them can help all parties involved. Equally, physically touching your child and inviting them into your space can help them to feel acknowledged and safe.
Regularly remind your child that the divorce is not happening as a result of them and that they are still loved by both parents. If you and your former partner are in agreement in regards to visiting and spending time with your child, reassure them that they will still see both their parents and will still be able to do various trips, activities and hobbies. In that sense, nothing will be different.From the beginning and throughout, you need to provide stability, care and love for your children. The situation is hard for everyone involved but the children have to witness it play out in front of them and they will need their parents to be there for them.With that being said, maybe the most important consideration is for you to remain strong with them. Seeing their parents weakened and struggling could be an upsetting sight for them, but by being stable and working respectfully with your former partner, can offer a valuable look at maintaining healthy relationships in the future and goes a long way to keeping the relationship with both parents alive and healthy.For more information regarding how Spring can help during your divorce, visit our Guides page here.
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