Helping your child cope with divorce
By: Teri Claassen MSW, LCSW, LCAC
Divorce can be a devastating experience for all involved. Many people, especially kids, feel as if the world they used to know has now died. It is important for parents to understand ways to minimize the effects of divorce on their kids. Here are some key things to keep in mind.
- Make sure you talk about feelings- It is very important for you to offer a forum for your kids to be real and honest with you about how they feel with all the changes going on around them. Make sure you give them permission to be sad, angry, hurt, or betrayed. Donít get defensive if they are upset with you. Validate their emotions with phrases like: ďI know this is hard for you. Is there anything you need from me?Ē
- Keep the adult information and decisions for adults only- It is a slippery slope to talk with your children about all the details of the divorce. Sharing too much with them can cause internal havoc in a child. This includes not fighting with your ex around your child. Remember that they have to carry whatever information they have seen or heard. More information then necessary can cause them to feel like they are ďgrowing up too fastĒ or that they are losing a piece of their childhood. Allow your kids to be kids and donít burden them with all your issues. They should not be your support system.
- Be aware of feelings of divided loyalty- Often times kids will feel torn between parents. They may struggle if they had a great time at dadís house for the weekend, but may not want to tell mom about it because they donít want her to be hurt or left out. Even if it is hard for you to hear these types of things, it is important for you to encourage your child to be open about the good and bad of what goes on at the other parentís home. Your reaction to this is vital. If you make a face, sigh, or criticize it will only tell your child to keep secrets from you and could create an emotionally unsafe environment.
- Keep your negative comments to yourself- You divorced your spouse for a reason, but it is not necessary for you to share all those reasons with your child. That is their parent and they are literally 50% of your child. That parent is part of who they are. Hating your ex could equal in a childís mind that you hate your child too.
- Give your child some element of control- Kids feel totally out of control of their world while going through a divorce. Try to find ways to let them make small decisions so they donít feel completely powerless. For example: what color to paint their room in the new house, what to have for dinner, what recreational activity to do, etc.
- Reassure your child- Donít assume that your child ĒknowsĒ you love them. They might not trust what they know anymore because it is totally changing. Tell your child several times a day that you love them, and will be there for them. Stay involved in their life. Donít avoid your childís activities for fear of seeing your ex. Your child will be the one that suffers if you do.
- Take care of yourself- It is a gift to your child to work on yourself and issues you struggle with going through the divorce. Being the best person that you can be will benefit you and your child.
- If you see any concerns with your childís reaction to the divorce, seek professional help- Counseling can be one of the greatest ways to give your child an uninvolved, safe sounding board as they are dealing with the divorce.
There are many resources for parents as they strive to do what is best for their child during a divorce. Here are several we recommend:
- Helping your kids cope with divorce the Sandcastles Way by Gary
Neuman (as seen on Oprah) A must for parents with kids of all ages!
- Was It the Chocolate Pudding?: A Story For Little Kids About
Divorce by Sandra Levins and Bryan Langdo (for kids ages 2-6)
- Mama and Daddy Bear's Divorce by Cornelia Maude Spelman (for kids ages 2-6)
- This is Me and my Two Families: An Awareness Scrapbook/ Journal for Children Living in Stepfamilies by M.D. Evans (for kids ages 4 and up)
- Ginny Morris and Momís House, Dadís House by Mary Collins Gallagher (for kids ages 8-12)
- Help! A Girl's Guide to Divorce and Stepfamilies by Nancy Holyoke (for girls ages 8 and up)
- The Divorce Helpbook for Teens by Cynthia MacGregor (for teens)
If you need additional support, more resources, or to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced trained therapists, call (317) 569-0046 or visit our website at www.imaginehopecounseling.com. We provide individual, marriage, family, child and adolescent counseling for Indianapolis and the surrounding areas including Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Noblesville and Westfield.
Related Categories: Divorce, Marriage Counseling, Relationships, Parenting