Helping Children Cope with Separation and Divorce
Children usually think their parents will be together forever, so when separation and divorce suddenly turns their world upside down it can be a confusing, anxious and traumatic time. Many children find it difficult to understand and cope with the changes associated with separation and divorce and will need help to make sense of the changing shape of their family and how they fit into it.
Breaking the news to a child about separation or divorce can be difficult. Parents may find it helpful to put themselves in their child’s shoes and try to envisage the feelings and questions which could arise as a result of the breakup. This may help you to understand the level of angst your child may feel and also assist with planning how to manage the situation moving forward. Parents can do several things to help children cope with the upcoming changes. These include;
- Try to anticipate the child’s questions and have your answers ready i.e. why is this happening, what did I do wrong, who will I live with, where will we live, how often will I see mum or dad, will I still see my friends, can I still love the parent I’m not living with, will my dog live with me, can I still play my sport, will I have to change schools, why will I only have set times I can see mum or dad etc.
- Work out a co-parenting plan in advance so the child will know exactly what will happen and you have a clear plan for moving forward.
- If possible, present a united approach. Have a family meeting to discuss the changes and how everyone can work together, focusing on the positives for the children
- Use language the child will understand when explaining the situation and how things will work
- Reassure the child that he/she is loved very much by both parents
- Help the child to understand that the problem lies with the parents and the child did not do anything to cause the situation.
- Allow plenty of opportunities for the child to ask questions and talk about how he/she is feeling
- Co-parent consistently and keep the needs of your child in mind.
- Refrain from arguing in front of the child. Heated discussions will undermine the child’s feeling of security and coping ability.
- Avoid pointing the finger of blame or bad mouthing each other in front of the child. Children should not be put in a situation of having to decide who is “the bad guy” or made to feel they have to choose who they can love.
- Avoid the guilt trap. Remember your child needs you to be a responsible parent, not their best buddy who gives them everything they want. The family dynamic may have changed but that doesn’t mean you have to make up for it by being the “good guy”. In the long run, your child will be a better person if both parents remain consistent, are on the same page and have boundaries and consequences for inappropriate behaviour.
Counselling can help you and your loved ones move forward from separation and divorce in a loving, supportive and positive manner. If you, your partner or children need help and support to cope, please reach out to Karen Cummins at Mindful Crossroads counselling services on 0400 416 535 or fill in the “Contact” section on the Mindful Crossroads website to arrange a confidential discussion.