Divorce and separation can be extremely difficult for children. It’s essential to find ways to make them feel comfortable while their parents work on the divorce. As a parent, you can do many things to help your children, such as having regular family meetings or involving your kids in decision-making.
Regardless of circumstances, divorce is a difficult time for parents, too. It can be tough to juggle the emotions of separation and the responsibilities of parenthood, but you need to help your children with any feelings of loss and anger throughout the process. Divorce is a traumatic experience for children of all ages and creates feelings of shock, anger, uncertainty, and even blame themselves.
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If you’re going through a separation or divorce, this guide will help you and your children through this challenging period. It details the different things you can do to help them avoid any bad feelings and blame.
Encourage Your Children to Share
One of the most important things to do during a split is to let your children know that it’s OK to feel upset or angry and encourage them to share their feelings. In many ways, the process of separation is like grief for your children, and they will need your support throughout.
Take the time to listen to them as they may feel sad or angry about things you may not have thought about. You may also need to help find the right words for their feelings as children often struggle to express their feelings. More importantly, you need to let them be honest with you regardless of how their emotions affect yours. Let them know that whatever they feel is OK — even if it’s anger towards you or your ex-partner.
Whenever your children open up and share their feelings, you need to make sure that you acknowledge them. While you’re unlikely to solve the emotions that divorce and separation cause with comforting words, acknowledging them helps build trust when they have more questions later.
Just as you encourage your children to be open and honest throughout the separation process, you and your ex-partner must do the same. This starts with telling your children about the divorce. It’s natural for parents to freeze up when telling children about the divorce, and it’s incredibly tempting to sugar-coat the news. You don’t need to be completely honest with your children about the circumstances — especially if the cause of the divorce is infidelity or worse.
Your children deserve to know why you and your partner are getting divorced, but giving them too much information may confuse them. Be honest and straightforward by saying something like, “We just aren’t getting on anymore”. If you can, take the time to work out what you’re going to say and try to anticipate any difficult questions that might pop up.
Throughout the process, it’s essential to show and tell your children that you love them. It’s also crucial to reassure them that regardless of the situation, it will never affect the relationship between you and them.
Form a Team with Your Ex
Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, the last thing you may want to do is co-operate with your partner. If there have been hurtful events like infidelity, it’s easy to play the blame game. And while you may harbour these feelings privately, you need to hide them from your children.
Throughout the process, you and your soon-to-be ex-partner will need to present a united front. Try to agree in advance to what you will tell your children and make sure that you stick to it. If you are changing your kids’ routine, plan out the changes with your partner and figure out how to tell your children together.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming your partner for the divorce, and while these feelings are justifiable, it’s unfair for your children to take sides. Bringing your children into your disputes with your partner will exacerbate any emotions they are already feeling and make them less likely to share their feelings.
Divorce and separation can create a huge array of painful feelings. Alongside the loss and potential anger at the end of your relationship, you may be confused, lonely and scared about what the future holds. These are natural emotions but learning to cope with them is vital for helping your children.
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There are several ways to cope with your own emotions during divorce, and they change for every person. But if you’re not sure where to start, here are a few suggestions:
- See your friends and family as often as you can. While you may want to hide away from the world, seeing people you care for and who care for you can be a huge help. While you can speak to them honestly about your separation, you can also use it as a way to distract yourself.
- Try to exercise and eat healthily if you can. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and frustration that are common in divorce. It will help you to assess situations more clearly and handle the process better. It’s also worth ensuring that you eat a healthy diet. Fast food and take-outs might be tempting and easier, but a balanced diet can make you feel better physically and emotionally.
- Keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings. For many people, keeping a diary of your feelings may not be something you would ordinarily do, but it can help you process your emotions. Writing down how you feel can help to get it off your chest and relieve stress.
Dealing with the emotions of a divorce and helping your children through the process is a tough experience. If you, or someone you know, are struggling with anything, the NSPCC offers a wealth of helpful information and advice.