Divorce is hard on kids of all ages. Common sense tells us that we need to be supportive and extra attentive to our children during periods of change and upheaval in their lives. You know your child best. You know how to comfort them and parent with kindness and compassion, but it may be difficult to effectively guide them through rough waters when you are also going through the change, upheaval, and distress of a separation and divorce.
Here are some tips for helping your kids cope with your separation and divorce:
- Encourage them to talk to someone they trust (other than you or your ex) about their feelings. Your child may be close to a grandparent, an older friend/caregiver/teacher, or some other trustworthy person in her life who has been through a divorce as a child or adult. If a child feels open to express their feelings without running the risk of hurting Mom or Dad, they may benefit greatly. Give them the opportunity to unburden themselves of fears and anxieties associated with the separation and divorce in a safe, familiar environment.
- Be honest, realistic, and respectful. Bearing the child’s age in mind, do you best to answer his or her questions honestly. Be clear that you won’t be getting back together with your ex, but be careful not to speak poorly of the other parent to your child or argue with your ex in front of the child. It may be very hard to bite your tongue, but depending on the child’s age, he may remember fighting, swearing, ill-will, and upset years later.
- Remind your kid to be a kid. Some children will want to know everything that’s going on and will try to take on the weight of the world; they’re just built that way. Thank them for their maturity and intelligence, but give them permission to leave the adult issues to the adults. Try not to lean on a mature child for support, even though they may wish to comfort you.
- Remind them that they’re not alone. It’s an unfortunate reality, but divorce is not uncommon. Give them examples of positive outcomes post-divorce, and encourage them to talk to friends whose parents have made it through a divorce in an amicable manner, if possible.
- Repeat answers as often as the child requires. Kids have questions. Lots of them. Be patient and show them you are willing to try to answer their questions as fully as you can. Take the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings or false beliefs that may have arisen.
- Provide consistent caregiving. Upsetting your child’s routine as little as possible will help reassure her, and help provide a sense of stability. Yes, some things are different, but many are still the same.
- Use technology to help your child stay in touch with the parent from whom they are absent. Phone, email, text, Facetime – use these tools to help reassure your child that the other parent is still very accessible to him.
- Look after yourself. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Practice gratitude. Your state of well-being will have a huge influence on how your child feels. If they see you struggling and adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms, they may feel they have your permission to follow suit. Be a good role model.
- Don’t use your child as a messenger or mediator between you and your ex. See no. 3 above. Leave the adult issues to the adults.
- Let them know you love them. It goes without saying, but don’t forget to express your love in words and with your actions. You know your child best. Your intuition will tell you what they need – listen to it.
You are going through one of the most difficult periods of your life. And so is your child. No one expects you to be a perfect parent – that’s completely unrealistic. But if you bear some of the above advice in mind, you will be doing the very best you can for you and your child. For advice about any family law matter, call Gelman & Associates at (416) 736-0200 or 1-844-742-0200 or contact us online for a confidential initial consultation.