Divorce is never easy for anyone, but it can have a considerable impact on your children if you are not conscious of a few key elements. Social scientists and researchers have shown that overwhelmingly how your children will fare through your separation largely depends on the level of parental conflict and how long that lasts after a separation or divorce.
It is natural when a marriage ends for there to be some level of suffering that occurs during and in the months immediately following the separation. But in the event the conflict is exacerbated and extends over time, this is likely to increase the child’s stress and anxiety. This ongoing conflict can be very problematic as it can mean a child may feel torn between the two parents. When addressing children’s needs, their wellbeing is always considered paramount. In this article, we explore what is involved in helping children through divorce including how to tell your children about your divorce and some helpful tips to assist your children through the separation process.
In general, there is no easy way to break the news to your children but there are things you can do to try and make the children cope better with the news. It is really important to try and leave your feelings, whether they are guilt, anger or blame, out of the discussion that you have with your child. It is also important to ensure that whatever is communicated is suitable for the child’s age, maturity and individual personality.
Research suggests that it is helpful to reinforce that the separation is not the child’s fault and you should look to give them reassurance that their parents love them and will be involved in their lives. Where appropriate, you may wish to give your children information if there is going to be a change to their living arrangements or their daily routine, if that has been agreed or determined. Older children may be more likely to have sensed that changes are afoot and the news may not come as a surprise, but positive reinforcement is still likely to be beneficial.
Shield them from conflict to help children through divorce
After the initial discussion to break the news, it is important to try to shield your children from any conflict wherever possible. Do not directly involve your kids in any adult issues between you and your ex-partner. If you can, aim to keep any visible and audible conflict away from them.
If you are having a heated discussion or discussing legal issues, then try and arrange to do this during a time when the kids will not be within earshot of you. While emotions are heightened it can be challenging but aim to avoid blame and using your kids to share negative feelings about the other parent.
You will also want to ensure you avoid making your children act as messengers between the two parents. This is something I see come up a lot in family reports. For example, parents who are concerned about children being used to send messages about appointments or arrangements, such as pick up or drop-off details, often avoid communication with the other parent.
It becomes a problem when information like this is passed through the child. I often hear and see the response that might be something like ‘why didn’t Dad tell me that directly?’ or ‘Why doesn’t he talk to me’, which can leave your child feeling torn. So while this might seem like an innocent and practical way of dealing things, it can be really damaging to children. As they then have this loyalty conflict about how they deal with feeling they are ‘in the middle.’
Important things to reinforce to help children through divorce
The most important message to reinforce to your kids is that they are loved by both parents. You want to be honest, but child-appropriate, by listening to their concerns, spending quality time with them, and focusing on the fact that what is happening is not their fault.
For everyone involved, separation and divorce is a really difficult time in people’s lives. It is one of the most stressful things that you can go through, so seeking support through this period from professionals, friends, or family is common.
What you as a parent want to be sure of though is that you do not use the kids, particularly older children, as support. Even if they are seemingly willing to play that role, this can become increasingly difficult for them to manage that sense of responsibility.
Children may need some support themselves depending on their age and how they are faring with things. Providing an age-appropriate way for that to occur, in consultation with the other parent, is important. Whether that’s through some counselling, making a school counsellor aware of your circumstances, or through other means such as books or information available online.
Separation and divorce is never an easy time for anyone. But when children are involved it is important as parents that we are helping our children through the process as best as we can.
Related articles: Communication During Separation: 5 Tips To Manage Toxic Communication
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Disclaimer: The content in this article provides general information however it does not substitute legal advice or opinion. Information is best used in conjunction with legal advice from an experienced member of our team.