Communication with our children is always important, but never as essential as when they are impacted by separation or divorce. Children are vulnerable and easily frightened by changes in their routines.
The more you talk to and comfort them, the less stress and anxiety they’ll experience. This is the time to reassure your children that you are taking care of matters and everyone in the family will be okay. Then, of course, take responsibility for doing what needs to be done to assure their well-being.
Here are five important ways you can minimize the impact of divorce on your children to help them thrive during and after your divorce.
1. Strive to keep as much normalcy in your children’s lives as is feasible. Maintaining relationships with friends and neighbors provides a sense of stability and continuity. Keeping children in the same school and remaining in the same house, when possible, serves to remind children that life is still going on as usual in many ways. That awareness makes it easier to adapt to the other changes happening at the same time. Always make decisions based on their emotional security.
2. Make spending time and attention with your children a priority. With all the stress in your life it’s easy to overlook your kid’s need for stability and security. The best source for that is you. It’s easy to take solace with friends or bury yourself in work, but your children need you more than ever right now. Your love and attention are the most valuable resources you can share with them. Make sure you are generous with both!
3. Talk to your children about ways to discuss the divorce with their friends and extended family. Coach them on answers to probing questions from the outside, such as, “I don’t know. My mom and dad are working on that.” Or “You’ll have to ask my mom about that.” Do whatever it takes to remember that your children deserve to have and keep their childhood. Let them be kids. Never burden them with adult responsibilities or communication.
4. Seek out other families who have experienced divorce as part of a new network. This can provide support and new friends for you as well as your children. They will appreciate meeting other kids who know what they are going through and can share feelings and stories. School guidance counselors may be able to help you find support groups, clubs or other gatherings.
5. Don’t wait for emotional or behavior problems to appear. It is often wise to talk to a family therapist in advance about issues to be aware of. Or schedule a few sessions with your children so they can express their anxiety, fear, anger, etc. and feel “heard” by an objective third party. Ask friends, pediatricians or school professionals for referrals to therapists experienced with divorce.
Some days you may want to hide in a closet or under the blankets in bed. So may your children. But they can’t always express what they are feeling and why. It is your responsibility to be diligent in protecting your children — emotionally as well as physically. Keep the doors to communication open as non-judgmentally as you can. This will go a long way toward helping the children you love get through these challenging times with the best possible outcome.