Divorce is hard on everyone, especially the children. They have lost their family unit. There are many stories about the dreadful results of divorce on children, however there is also considerable research and evidence showing that children can actually excel and develop far better if they are out of a damaging or conflictual parent relationship.
The guilt many parents feel when they break the news to the children that Mum and Dad have decided to separate is immense. The most important thing to remember is there is adult business and there is child business and never should the two cross over.
Children only need to know that mum and dad have decided to live apart and that they both love the child, and both will spend time with the child. It is important to ensure the child feels secure knowing where they will be residing, they can continue to attend the same school, see both parents and perhaps extended family, and keep attending their sports or hobbies. Security for the child is paramount.
Sometimes a child may begin to act out or become aggressive. This is usually the result of feeling anger, confusion and fear. If your child is experiencing these issues, allow them time to process this event in their life; an event they did not ask for or want. Sometimes our children can even blame themselves for the parent leaving and feel if they behaved better their parent would have stayed. This is a huge weight for any child to bear and one that needs addressing immediately.
The child does not need to know any details about the separation such as unfaithful behaviour, drugs, alcohol details; only that it is a joint decision, and what will change for them from now on.
The way you explain your separation to your child is very age dependant. The younger the child the simpler the explanation, the older the child the more details they often want. As children develop they also notice the distress and sadness of the parent and this can affect the child. Blame can be placed on the parent who may have left, even if this parent did nothing wrong. If parents can simply advise the children that mum and dad have jointly made this decision to live apart this considerably helps the children.
Parents need to discuss and speak with their children often about how they are feeling and coping. To ask them how they feel, what they feel and guide them toward thinking differently and more positively. If your child is experiencing these issues seek professional counselling. The child will disclose more to a stranger than a parent or family friend, they want to protect their parent, not cause them more issues or hurt. It is beneficial to enable to child, even a young child, to open up safely and disclose their true feelings and fears.
When your child does communicate their feelings, fears and emotions with you, be curious. Even though we know what angry, sad or hate means to us, ask them to clarify and explain what they mean by this word and what it actually means to them. We do not want to place our meaning onto their words, so ask them to explain their own interpretation of these words. You may find a considerable difference in your own understanding compared to theirs.
The best ways a parent can help their child cope with a divorce is:
- Ensure they know what is happening
- Confirm they are loved by both mum and dad
- The divorce or separation is not their fault
- Explain how life will be now they are living apart
- Explain when they will be seeing and spending time with the other parent
- Keep a close eye on any reaction, aggression or sadness being expressed by the child
- Allow the child to talk about how they feel and be curious about what they say
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