As children have different ways of conveying their emotions when words won’t work, it’s important for parents to be adaptive and flexible to their methods of communication. Here are some ways to help your child through a divorce.
Answer Their Questions
Fear of the unknown is perhaps the biggest challenge that both parents and children will face during the divorce process. For parents, hiring a divorce attorney can help reduce the stress and associated expense of the divorce process (source: https://clw.com.au/family-law/divorce-lawyers-sydney/). For kids, it’s up to the parents to answer questions and reduce stress.
Some common questions that kids will have include:
- Where will we live?
- Will we still see both parents?
- Will I still be allowed to do activities (after school sports, going to camp, etc.)?
- Will I still see my friends?
Answer the questions to the best of your ability. If you don’t have an answer, say “we’re still figuring that out” rather than “I don’t know.”
Help Them Assign Words to Their Feelings
Young children don’t always know the words that go with their body’s reaction to emotions. For example, they may know that they feel hot and uncomfortable and want to yell, but don’t know how to say that they’re angry or frustrated. They might feel sleepy and like crying, but don’t know how to say that they’re sad.
Use resources to help children assign names to what they’re feeling. Simple illustrations of different facial expressions help children identify their own feelings as well as the feelings of their peers.
As a parent, it’s also important to acknowledge and accept their feelings and let them know that what they’re experiencing is ok. Simple phrases like “I understand that you’re angry” or “I’m sorry that you’re feeling sad right now” can help children feel validated and normal.
While processing your own emotions and helping your child process theirs, it’s also important to take care of yourself. Making sure that you’re eating well and getting enough rest is a form of modeling behavior for your child, showing them that it’s important to take care of yourself even when things are bad. Additionally, a parent who doesn’t take care of themselves will have a harder time caring for their children.
Self-care can come in many forms. Getting out of the house and playing on the playground with your kids or planning a movie night with a friend who also has children is a great way to relax and unwind while spending time with your kids.
Get Outside Help
There’s still a stigma around seeking psychological help that prevents many parents from taking their children to a counselor for guidance. However, these professionals see divorces every day and have the educational knowledge of how to help children explain and process their emotions. If you find that your child is struggling, consider reaching out for professional help. If traditional counseling doesn’t appeal, look for support groups that will benefit both you and your child.
One of the best things that parents can do for their child during a divorce is to remain civil when dealing with each other or when speaking about each other. As frustrating as the situation may be, saying derogatory things about your child’s other parent will not help you feel any better and will cause harm to your child.
Save the negative interactions with your spouse for when the children aren’t present, and your vent sessions for your best friend after the kids have gone to bed.
How you handle your divorce will stay with your child forever. By remaining civil with your ex-spouse, taking care of yourself, and offering continuous support, you’ll help your child get through this situation in a healthy manner.