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How Honest Should You Be With Your Kids About Dating After Divorce?

How Honest Should You Be With Your Kids About Dating After Divorce?

The kids come first: all divorced parents know this. That’s why they approach dating with an abundance of caution. If you’ve landed on this blog post, you’re doing the responsible thing: discovering what’s at stake for your children once you share your choice to start dating after divorce. Honest discussions may or may not go smoothly. Still, it’s only fair to include your children in your plans for the family structure going forward.

Why the Struggle?

Many divorced fathers dread explaining to children that they’re going to meet a “new friend.” Fathers can feel like they’re betraying their current loves — their children — by sharing themselves with a new love interest.

Father’s’ concerns are warranted. Kids have robust fantasies that their parents—the two most intense love objects in their lives—will reconcile. Gary Neuman, creator of Sandcastles, a popular and court-mandated divorce therapy program for children, explains that witnessing a parent date is so difficult because it makes it very clear that their unification fantasies will never come to pass.

That’s a tough message to absorb.

Neuman and many psychologists explain that when the family breaks up, a child’s identity may be at risk. Where a child comes from vigorously feeds his self-concept. Neuman relates the story of one child who said, “I feel now that my parents are separated, I don’t exist.” That’s tough. No wonder divorced parents are reluctant to start dating. The good news is that, as time goes on, this fantasy fades. Introducing a girlfriend two years or more later goes far better than introducing her three months after the separation. Experts agree that divorced fathers should establish a new routine with their children as a family before bringing in another member of the special family. This can take at least two if not as long as five years.

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Making it clear to children that you have plenty of love to share and do not plan to reduce the amount of time or effort invested in them goes far in easing their fears that they may somehow lose you. Children may also be concerned that, by accepting your new partner they’re betraying their mother. Let them ask their questions, and gently bring up that you don’t expect them to like your friend any more than their own mom.

Discussing Dating after Divorce: What to Bring Up & When

Too often, children prepare themselves for an outing with dad only to hear that the “new friend, Paula” will be joining them. Counselors encourage parents to discuss their dating lives with their children before dropping the new love in on a family activity this way. Parents who go with the “don’t ask; don’t tell” approach to dating rob children of the important experience of contributing input.

Fathers may try hard to emphasize the “friendship” aspect of the new relationship, but children see through that phrasing in an instant. Therefore, it’s important to let children know that, just as they long for the company of friends their own age, so too do you need adult companionship. Therefore, the first honest talk about dating to have is the “Dad’s been dating here and there” discussion. This allows them to get used to the idea and also come up with and ask the important questions. Discussing the events in your life, even your loneliness and goals, will help them feel important. These honest dialogues will stay with them as they begin dating in their teen years.

One thing some parents do when they start dating is explain that they’d like to meet someone with whom they’d like to spend a lot of time. After they explain the qualities and interests they’re looking for, they ask their children what qualities and interests they’d like to see. If you ask this question, be ready for silly answers from young children. Still, bringing them into the process helps them internalize how important they are to you. That’s a wonderful gift to give your children.

The Introduction Discussion

Once you’ve found someone you think could go long term, share this with your children as well. Tell them your partner’s name, other important facts and some of the things you do together. Sharing these details will create anticipation in your children. Foment curiosity in them so that when you do bring everyone together, they feel they’re joining an important part of your life.

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The timing: divorced fathers often have time to meet with dating prospects or love interests for a long time before choosing one and introducing them to children. The generally accepted advice from divorce coaches and counselors is to wait until the relationship is very serious or moving toward permanency before any introductions take place. That means one or even two years not only after the divorce itself, but after the period in which you grieve the lost relationship and work on yourself to become a better partner. The last thing children need is to bond or form a relationship with someone who may disappear in the next few months.

Still, letting children know that you’ve chosen one woman to date exclusively eases them into the new vision of you with a new partner. Prepare yourself for questions like these:

The kids come first: all divorced parents know this. That’s why they approach dating with an abundance of caution. If you’ve landed on this blog post, you’re doing the responsible thing: discovering what’s at stake for your children once you share your choice to start dating after divorce. Honest discussions may or may not go smoothly. Still, it’s only fair to include your children in your plans for the family structure going forward.

When Children Have Objections to the New Partner

Yet another honest discussion dating dads have with children begins with, “I don’t like it when she . . . “

Getting children to like a new partner can be a struggle. There are far more issues at work than your new friend’s personality, quirks or interests. Children must adjust to new routines, struggle with loyalty to their mothers and fears about sharing their fathers. In other words, lots of subconscious stuff can interfere in the relationship.

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Teens can process change and new identity of their father as a romantic individual better than younger children. Still, keeping young adults in the family-decision-making loop goes far in keeping the peace. Just listening to younger children and repeating their concerns back to them reassures them that their issues matter. Use messages like, “when she laughs really loud, it makes you think she’s fake” or “so you don’t like it when she interrupts you.” Then try to come up with solutions together. Ask, “what do you think we should say to her to get her to cut it out?” or “how can we act to help her talk better to us?”  Even emphasizing with your child on minor points helps. “You’re right. She does ask waiters too many things! I wonder why?” All of these phrases ensure that lines of communication remain open and the child is just as important as ever.

  • Will she be going to my soccer game? Will you be able to watch me if she does?
  • Does she think she can boss me around?
  • When do we meet her?
  • Will she want me to call her mom?
  • Will mom be mad?
  • Should we tell mom? / What do we tell mom?
  • Can I tell mom about your new girlfriend?
  • Is she going to be here all the time?

These questions bring up serious issues regarding the new routine you’ll work out with your new partner. For instance, question number two, “does she think she can boss me?” is critical to children. Experts agree that step-parents do best when they refrain from disciplining each other’s children. The discipline remains in the hands of the biological parents only. Working out these questions with your new girlfriend deepens your relationship and sidesteps problems before they even begin.

The Event:  Dating and divorce experts agree that the first introduction shouldn’t include a serious sit down dinner where children and your new girlfriend sit face to face asking awkward questions. Instead, meet for a common activity like bowling, mini-golfing or biking outside of the home. Make the date relatively short: no all-day amusement park outings. Ask your children what they would like to do. Offer younger children a choice of three events. Let teens contribute their ideas.

Gradually work up from quick interactions to more in-depth, longer ones. Always make sure to set aside time to spend alone with your children.

When Children Have Objections to the New Partner

Yet another honest discussion dating dads have with children begins with, “I don’t like it when she . . . “

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Getting children to like a new partner can be a struggle. There are far more issues at work than your new friend’s personality, quirks or interests. Children must adjust to new routines, struggle with loyalty to their mothers and fears about sharing their fathers. In other words, lots of subconscious stuff can interfere in the relationship.

Teens can process change and new identity of their father as a romantic individual better than younger children. Still, keeping young adults in the family-decision-making loop goes far in keeping the peace. Just listening to younger children and repeating their concerns back to them reassures them that their issues matter. Use messages like, “when she laughs really loud, it makes you think she’s fake” or “so you don’t like it when she interrupts you.” Then try to come up with solutions together. Ask, “what do you think we should say to her to get her to cut it out?” or “how can we act to help her talk better to us?”  Even emphasizing with your child on minor points helps. “You’re right. She does ask waiters too many things! I wonder why?” All of these phrases ensure that lines of communication remain open and the child is just as important as ever.

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via thumb7.shutterstock.com

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Peter Mueller

Founder of Father's Rights Law Center

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Published on February 11, 2021

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

I’m old enough to remember how the cane at school was used for punishment. My dad is old enough to think that banning corporal punishment in schools resulted in today’s poorly disciplined youth. With all of this as my early experiences, there was a time when I would have been better assigned to write about how to negatively discipline your child.

What changed? Thankfully, my wife showed me different approaches for discipline that were very positive. Plus, I was open to learning.

What has not changed is that kids are full of problems with impulses and emotions that flip from sad to happy, then angry in a moment. Though we’re not that different as adults with stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and stimulants such as sugar and caffeine in our diets.

Punishment as Discipline?

What this means is that we usually take the easy path when a child misbehaves and punish them. Punishment may solve an isolated problem, but it’s not really teaching the kids anything useful in the long term.

Probably it’s time for me to be clear about what I mean by punishment and discipline as these terms are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different.

Discipline VS. Punishment

Punishment is where we inflict pain or suffering on our child as a penalty. Discipline means to teach. They’re quite the opposite, but you’ll notice that teachers, parents, and coaches often confuse the two words.

So, as parents, we have to have clear goals to teach our kids. It’s a long-term plan—using strategies that will have the longest-lasting impact on our kids are the best use of our time and energy.

If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, then it becomes easier to find the best strategy. The better we are at responding when our kids misbehave or do not follow our guidance, the better the results are going to be.

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3 Positive Discipline Strategies for Your Child

Stay with me as I appreciate that a lot of people who read these blogs do not always have children with impulse control. We’ve had a lot of kids in our martial arts classes that were the complete opposite. They had concentration issues, hyperactive, and disruptive to the other children.

The easy solution is to punish their parents by removing the kids from the class or punish the child with penalties such as time outs and burpees. Yes, it was tempting to do all of this, but one of our club values is that we pull you up rather than push you down.

This means it’s a long-term gain to build trust and confidence, which is destroyed by constant punishments.

Here are the discipline strategies we used to build trust and confidence with these hyperactive kids.

1. Patience

The first positive discipline strategy is to simply be patient. The more patient you are, the more likely you are to get results. Remember I said that we need to build trust and connection. You’ll get further with this goal using patience.

As a coach, sometimes I was not the best person for this role, but we had other coaches in the club that could step in here. As a parent, you may not have this luxury, so it’s really important to recognize any improvements that you see and celebrate them.

2. Redirection

The second strategy we use is redirection. It’s important with a redirection to take “no” out of the equation. Choices are a great alternative.

Imagine a scenario where you’re in a restaurant and your kid is wailing. The hard part here is getting your child to stop screaming long enough for you to build a connection. Most parents have calming strategies and if you practice them with your child, they are more likely to be effective.

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In the first moment of calm, you can say “Your choice to scream and cry in public is not a good one. It would be best to say, Dad. What can I do to get ice-cream?” You can replace this with an appropriate option.

The challenge with being calm and redirecting is that we need to be clear-minded, focused, and really engaged at the moment. If you’re on your phone, talking with friends or family, thinking about work or the bills, you’ll miss this opportunity to discipline in a way that has long-term benefits.

3. Repair and Ground Rules

The third positive discipline strategy is to repair and use ground rules. Once you’ve given the better option and it has been taken, you have a chance to repair this behavior to lessen its occurrence to better yet, prevent it from happening again. And by setting appropriate ground rules, you can make this a long-term win by helping your child improve their behavior.

It’s these ground rules that help you correct the poor choices of your child and direct the behavior that you want to see.

Consequences Versus Ultimatums

When I was a child and being punished. My parents worked in a busy business for long hours, so their default was to go to ultimatums. “Do that again and you’re grounded for a week,” or “If I catch you doing X, you’ll go to bed without dinner”.

Looking back, this worked to a point. But the flip side is that I remembered more of the ultimatums than the happier times. I’ve learned through trial and error with my own kids that consequences are more effective while not breaking down trust.

What to Do When Ground Rules Get Broken?

It’s on the consequences that you use when the ground rules are broken.

In the martial arts class, when the hyperactive student breaks the ground rules. They would miss a turn in a game or go to the back of the line in a queue. We do not want to shame the child by isolating them. But on the flip side, there should be clear ground rules and proportionate consequences.

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Yes, there are times when we would like to exclude the student from the class, the club, and even the universe. Again, it’s here that patience is so important and probably impulse control too. With an attainable consequence, you can maintain trust and you’re more likely to get the long-term behavior that you’re looking to achieve.

Interestingly, we would occasionally hear a strategy from parents that little Kevin has been misbehaving at home with his sister or something similar. He likes martial arts training, so the parent would react by removing Kevin from the martial arts class as a punishment.

We would suggest that this would remove Kevin from an environment where he is behaving positively. Removing him from this is likely to be detrimental to the change you would like to see. He may even feel shame when he returns to the class and loses all the progress he’s made.

Alternatives to Punishment

Another option is to tell Kevin to write a letter to his sister, apologizing for his behavior, and explaining how he is going to behave in the future.

If your child is too young to write, give the apology face to face. For the apology to feel sincere, there is some value to pre-framing or practicing this between yourself and your child before they give it to the intended person.

Don’t expect them to know the ground rules or what you’re thinking! It will be clearer to your child and better received with some practice. You can practice along the lines of: “X is the behavior I did, Y is what I should have done, and Z is my promise to you for how I’m going to act in the future.” You can replace XYZ with the appropriate actions.

It does not need to be a letter or in person, it can even be a video. But there has to be an intention to repair the broken ground rule. If you try these strategies, that is become fully engaged with them and you’re still getting nowhere.

But what to do if these strategies do not work? Then there is plenty to gain by seeking the help of an expert. Chances are that something is interfering or limiting their development.

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This does not mean that your child has a neurological deficiency, although this may be the root cause. But it means that you can get an objective view and help on how to create the changes that you would like to see. Remember that using positive discipline strategies is better than mere punishment.

There are groups that you can chat with for help. Family Lives UK has the aim of ensuring that all parents have somewhere to turn before they reached a crisis point. The NSPCC also provides a useful guide to positive parenting that you can download.[1]

Bottom Line

So, there your go, the three takeaways on strategies you can use for positively disciplining your child. The first one is about you! Be patient, be present, and think about what is best for the long term. AKA, avoid ultimatums and punishment. The second is to use a redirect, then repair and repeat (ground rules) as your 3-step method of discipline.

Using these positive discipline strategies require you to be fully engaged with your child. Again, being impulsive breaks trust and you lose some of the gains you’ve both worked hard to achieve.

Lastly, consequences are better than punishment. Plus, avoid shaming, especially in public at all costs.

I hope this blog has been useful, and remember that you should be more focused on repairing bad behavior because being proactive and encouraging good behavior with rewards, fun, and positive emotions takes less effort than repairing the bad.

More Tips on How To Discipline Your Child

Featured photo credit: Leo Rivas via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NSPCC Learning: Positive parenting

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