How to Support Children through Divorce
A marriage brings two families together, but when the same people who were once so much in love decide to get divorced, it can be like a mini battlefield. The good news is that this is not always the case. Although, in some families, what happens is almost everyone takes sides and no one is spared. A divorce separates not only the couple, but in many cases, everyone in the family. Here, the ones that suffer the most are the ones that cannot take sides – the children. If you are looking to make sure that you can support children through divorce adequately, read on to get some ideas on how to handle the situation. If not, you can seek the advice of a psychologist or a counsellor for your specific situation.
The “D” Word
Naturally, many parents are concerned about the effect their divorce will have on their children. In fact, many people hold on to their marriage for the sake of the children. Nonetheless, the children can always find out when something is wrong. Even when nothing is said, even if the parents try to hide their fights or feelings, the children most probably will guess.
Many people tend to cling on an unfulfilling marriage to avoid a divorce for the sake of their children. In some cases, this is an equally undesirable position for your child. The child goes through so much fear that he anticipates the “D” word every time you fight. Ask yourself this question: Is your marriage worth saving? Couples counselling can help if you are determined to fight for your marriage, but this is not always the correct path for everyone.
How a child copes during a divorce depends on his or her age, temperament, and how well the parents handle the separation and the eventual divorce. Children can come out of this situation when they are helped by the parents to deal with the stress. Children are resilient, and slowly, they will go on to become more adaptive to the divorce. A friend of mine who got divorced a few months back says, “We were not good for each other and there was so much unhappiness. Things are a lot better now, after we got divorced. We continue to be friends and my little boy is happier.” If managed adequately, a divorce or separation sometimes can be short-term pain for a long-term gain.
What Can You Do to Support Children through Divorce?
- The first thing that you need to get right is how you break the news to your children. It is best if both of you are present when you announce the news. It is not an easy job; nonetheless, it is crucial that you stay calm, do not get emotional, and do not blame anybody. The way you discuss your decision depends on the age of the child, of course, but the important thing is to not be angry or upset with each other. Try not to blame each other and do not make the child take sides.
- Another point that parents should understand is that children may blame themselves for their parents’ separation, even after parents have told them that they are not. It is your duty as parents to make it clear right away when you are announcing your decision, and also frequently reassure them afterwards that they are in no way to blame for your falling out.
- You might decide, in a fit of anger, to move somewhere far way. Rethink if you have such plans. The children mostly are better off with both of their parents in their life. Consequently, both parents should be involved in the children’s upbringing. It will definitely help if the parents remain friendly after the divorce.
- Reassure the child that you will always be a part of their life. Tell them mummy and daddy are getting divorced from each other and not from them. Tell them you are always available to talk to them whenever they want to.
- Be prepared for questions from them and try to answer them as well as possible. You don’t need to tell your children all of the reasons as to why you are getting divorced, especially if you are going to blame each other. You can talk to them about how their life is going to be – what’s going to change and what’s not going to change. The questions your child can ask can range from:
– Who am I going to live with?
– Is daddy moving out? Where will he stay? Will I see him again?
– Am I still going to the same school? Will I see my friends again?
– Where will we go for holidays? How about Christmas and New Year?
– Can I continue my ballet classes/cricket/football/any other activity?
– Also, be prepared for surprises. Sometimes, children can react in unexpected ways. Like, remarking “I’m glad you are getting a divorce, daddy” or “It was about time!” or running away to play or any other unexpected reaction.
- Children find comfort in routine. If you and your spouse are separated, and your child is staying with you, try to continue the same routine that you previously were on and make any changes gradually.
- When the divorce proceedings are on, ensure that the children are away from the inevitable bickering and conflict. Divorce is a nerve-wracking time for both of you. There may be so many important issues that you need to deal with: custody of children and settlement of property issues or other financial matters. Things could become unpleasant and so these discussions are best done when the children are not around. Always remember to be polite to each other when your children are present.
- No matter what’s the reason behind your divorce, whether you are at fault or your ex is, do not turn to your children for support. If you have older kids, you might be tempted to confide in them. Not the wisest of moves, because you might end up alienating them from yourself or your ex. If you need to vent your feelings, you can do it outside the home when you are among friends. You can join a support group where you can find comfort in voicing your angst to people who have gone through a similar situation. You can also seek individual counselling to help you maintain your balance during this troubled time.
- It is natural for children to miss the other parent. You can let them know that it is okay for them to feel so and that they don’t need to feel guilty or sorry about it. You can ask them whether they want to call their daddy/mummy.
- Some children, especially the older ones, try to hide their feelings in order to spare their parents. This is not very healthy and can affect them in other ways. Some do poorly at school, others take to bullying, and still others isolate themselves. If you notice any change in behaviour or, in some instances, a lack of any affectation, you could consider taking them to counselling and also go for counselling yourself to know how to support them better.
It is typical for children to hope that their parents will get back together, even after the divorce has been finalised. How much ever you tell them to the contrary, they may still hold on to that hope. It is up to you to support children through divorce by setting an example and showing that you are moving on in life. It is up to you to put a positive light on their current life and talk about all the exciting things that you can do together. Over time, the children will stop grieving for their old life and will slowly adjust to their new circumstances.
Counselling at the Centre
The following are practitioners at the Centre who have experience with couples and relationship counselling:
- Leisa Thompson, Counselling Psychologist
- Joan Hamilton-Roberts, Counselling psychologist & Psychodramatist
Mathew Gaynor is a practitioner at the centre who has experience in treating children.
To get an appointment or to make enquiries, please call (03) 9820-5577.