Divorce is hard. Divorce is hard on you. Divorce is hard on your spouse. Divorce is hard on your children. There are many factors that contribute to the difficulties during the divorce process, including very intense emotions. It can be especially difficult to think of effective ways to help your child through this process while in the middle of your own grief and pain. While divorce is unique and complicated by different personalities, legalities, and mixed emotions here are some practical tips to keep in mind while communication with your children.
- Be Realistic: Sometimes in an effort to avoid their own pain a parent might hyper-focus on their children’s pain. Although paying attention to your child’s hurting and finding help when needed is appropriate, the expectation that you can somehow remove all pain from your child is not realistic. Grief is part of the process. Instead of trying to “fix” your child’s feelings allow them to express them in safe ways. If your child is angry then let them be angry as long as their anger is not being expressed in ways that are harmful to themselves or others.
- Communicate Change Timely and Effectively: Change can happen very quickly in a divorce and sometimes these changes are not communicated effectively to children. If schedules are changing discuss what those changes will be like and ask for suggestions from your children. Make sure you communicate ahead of time so that they have a week or two to process the changes prior to a major move. Always take responsibility for the final decisions but take into account how these changes might affect their daily lives as well. Your therapist can help you create age appropriate schedules and charts to help your child wrap their minds around new routines.
- Be Reassuring: Depending on the age of your child their ability to process very complicated emotions is limited. When children have complicated emotions they do not always understand how to express them and may act out angrily or ask disconnected questions such as, “Will I get a new Mommy and Daddy now?” It can be very easy to simply say NO or brush off the question because you don’t know what to say. I encourage you to ask them more questions and keep the conversation going to find out more details about what kinds of emotions are going on inside. Reassure them that regardless of what is happening now in their lives you will always be their Mom and Dad. They may continue to ask these types or questions, keep reassuring them.
- Control Your Emotions: This might seem like an impossible task to ask of you when every day might be full of emotion for you, however, children are experts at soaking up the emotions around them (NOT experts at processing those feelings, though) and can read you better than you think. Children will begin to internalize their own emotions for fear of burdening you with theirs. I am not encouraging you in any way to not express your own emotions – it is absolutely VITAL for you to do so preferably with a counseling professional. I do encourage you to wait until your children are away or asleep to have a breakdown.
- Take Care of Your Family: If there is ever a transitions in which you should seek professional help for you and your children it is in the midst of a divorce. The effects of a divorce can be lifelong and life changing for all involved. Additionally, attempting to take care of others while in such a raw place emotionally can prove to be futile. Get help. Reach out to a doctor, therapist, pastor, or group to give you professional emotional support through this difficult time.
We at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants are here to help you and your family through this emotional time. Please reach out when you need help through a divorce or during any other time of change.