It doesn’t matter how old your children might be. Divorce will upset their world like no other happening in their life. Regardless of age – from toddlers to teens – children are affected by divorce or separation in uniquely different ways.
Some children become incredibly angry and are unreachable, acting out in ways that are opposite of their usual kind or docile personality. Others suffer from shock or uncertainty and can’t grasp how life will be once one parent moves out and they are left living with the other. Others might blame themselves, feeling guilty about their behavior or something else they’ve done that makes them believe that perhaps they are the cause of this break-up.
Regardless of how your child reacts, it’s essential that you are there for them to guide them through this difficult time in life. They WILL survive, but how they come through this trying time will depend largely on the support you provide for them, whether you handle it all yourself or reach out to a professional for some additional guidance.
Here’s what your child expects from you during a divorce
Despite the fact that there will likely be at least some turmoil between you and your spouse during this time, there are a number of things your children need from you while you are going through your divorce or separation.
- Your child still needs both of you in his/her life. Even if your child is living with your spouse and not you, they need to hear from you via calls, emails, or texts. Just a simple daily check-in to say, “How are you?” allows your child to know that you are still interested in them and that you still want to have a hand in raising them.
- Your child needs you both to work hard on getting along with one another and, especially, to agree on matters related to them. When you fight about custody issues or argue about other things related to your child, especially in front of them, that young person begins to think the divorce is their fault.
- Your child will likely want to spend time with both of you. Don’t exhibit jealousy when the child is with the other person. Unless there is a safety reason why your child can’t be with your spouse, do your best to support frequent visits with the non-custodial parent.
- Your child shouldn’t be used as a so-called “go between”. Do not ask your son and daughter to relay messages to your spouse, especially toxic ones. Communicate directly with your soon-to-be ex and leave the kids out of it.
- Don’t try to turn your child against the other parent. That means you must avoid berating him or her or saying unkind things to your child about their mom or dad. When you exhibit such animosity, the child or teen may feel compelled to take your side and that’s just not fair.
Helping your child grieve the divorce
Even if you follow all the rules and keep your child’s well-being in the forefront of the goings on, your child will grieve the break-up of your marriage and will need help navigating the slippery slopes that go with being a child of divorce.
But if you encourage them to show their emotions, you can assist them in adjusting to their new circumstances, even though life will be very different.
- Help them find a way to express themselves. While older children may be able to tell you exactly how they feel using words, younger ones often can’t do that. So, encourage them with your words and with things like play and drawing for the littlest ones. Sadness and frustration are best not left untapped, so do what’s necessary to help them express their emotions.
- Truly listen to your child. Take time for talking and for interactive dialogue but don’t contradict their feelings because you’re angry at your partner. Listening intently, nod your head, and help them work out a way to address their feelings.
- Let your child know that it’s okay to be honest and that you won’t be offended. Older kids, especially, are often hesitant to speak the truth that’s in their heart because they’re afraid of alienating one parent or the other. Even if they blame YOU for the divorce, let them tell you. If they hold back, it’s more likely that your relationship will remain strained.
- Recognize that you may have to re-hash details of the divorce again and again, even as years pass. Kids’ intellect changes as they age as do their feelings and emotions. So, what they feel at 5 years-old will likely be way different than what their emotions are telling them at 10 years-old. Recognize that healing will be an ongoing process.
Most of all, you’ll want your children’s lives to stay as stable as possible during this time of upheaval. Provide them with as much structure and routine as you are able and, in a kind and calm way, let them know when to expect things to change a bit. Usually, when alterations in their schedule or living arrangements are communicated clearly beforehand, children can find ways to cope with a new normal.
If you need assistance in helping your children navigate a current or upcoming divorce, the professionals at the offices of Dr. Ellie Bolgar are there for you and your kids. We are well-versed in helping children navigate the pitfalls of divorce and can also assist parents in learning how to communicate with their kids during this tricky period in their life. For an appointment or consultation, call 604-371-0198.