When two parents decide to no longer be together, it is a decision that may have been long expected or it could come as a complete surprise. Every child’s reaction and response to their parents breaking-up will be unique and while the parents need help through the process, children do too.
Your child didn’t choose to have their parents separate. They didn’t choose to be involved in a challenging tug-of-war between the parents. From the child’s perspective, their world has been turned up-side-down. They will be sensing a change in the energy in the house and it make them feel ‘unstable’. Moving between two homes can be incredibly confronting and may undermine their confidence.
“Being able to help and support your child through your divorce process can make a huge difference to their divorce journey,” shares Rachael Scharrer, life change counsellor and divorce expert from Divorce Answered. She offers some suggestions for helping your child through the emotional journey of divorce:
- Give them time to express their emotions. Your child may be excessively sad, angry or confused. Create the space and time for your child to share with you any concerns, worries and feelings that they may have.
- Help your child put words to their feelings and thoughts. Some children have the emotional maturity to articulate their feelings, while other children will need support expressing themselves. Printable emotion/emoji faces can help your child identify and label what they are feeling.
- Avoid dismissive comments. Dismissive comments can be quite harmful to your child in the long term. “Get over it,” “you’ll be ok,” “toughen up” and “stop crying” don’t help your child grieve and understand what they are experiencing. Sometimes children need to be allowed to wallow in sadness, pity and uncertainty.
- Be conscious of changes in behaviour. Changes in behaviour can be a sign of stress or anxiety. Be understanding as your child may be more distracted or disruptive at school as they process the changes happening at home.
- Create a support network of trusted adults for your child. A trusted adult is someone that they can talk to who aren’t their parents – like grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbours. People who can emotionally support the child and be a confidant when they need it.
- Arrange professional support. If your child is having a really tough time adjusting to the change, professional support may be required from a counsellor or psychologist. Often a few simple strategies from a professional can make a big difference to how your child copes with divorce.
- Consistency can be comforting. Where possible, try to have keep similar routines at both parents’ houses. The consistency of routine is familiar to your child and will help your child feel more comfortable when they are at each home.
- Check-in. Regularly have a feeling check with your child. Ask “how are you feeling in your tummy/heart/head today?” It gives them an opportunity to talk feelings which may or may not be related to the divorce.
At night, when the wold becomes quiet and the distractions are at a minimum, children tend to listen to the thoughts in their mind. It is often when the child is in bed that they will want to ask you some tough questions. Try to make sure that you have time to talk, settle and sooth your child before they go to sleep.
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