Divorce is a time of awful change so there’s no question that it is stressful – for both parents and kids. The prospect of their parents splitting sets off all kinds of confusing thoughts in the fragile minds of children. The emotional toll of divorce on kids can be huge and if they don’t get proper help in time, the consequences can be terrible and may last throughout their lives.
Researchers have found that children with divorced parents are twice more likely to suffer from problems like depression, aggression, lower academic performance etc. than ones from intact families.
However, these problems are not inevitable. Knowing how to help your kids through this hard time makes all the difference in how the divorce impacts your kids on the short term as well as on the long run.
Here below are a few things for parents to do to help their kids cope with divorce.
1. Reassure your kids that they are loved
Seeing their parents go through the hassles of divorce can brew all kinds of negative thoughts in kids’ minds which could have devastating consequences in the long run. The changes that divorce brings along puts the kids in situations where they blame themselves for the things happening around them.
“He is leaving because I wasn’t a good kid. If only I had been better behaved”. These kind of thoughts leaves them feeling unloved which could result in problems like low self-esteem and emotional difficulties that can last well beyond childhood. Comfort them often with hugs and reassure them that both the parents still love them. And also, make sure you are providing them with the necessary child support.
2. Tell your children the truth about why you are separating (to the extent possible)
By keeping your kids in the dark or telling them lies about your divorce, you don’t save them any trouble, rather you make the already bad situation worse. If you’re building on the foundation of lies, when it gets sufficiently high it comes down crashing on you.
Be honest and tell your kids why you are divorcing but don’t forget to be age-aware. Don’t let them think the divorce is about them or give them the idea that they are the reason you are divorcing. Tell them early and often that it is not their fault that the family had to split. Help them process the truth without sugarcoating the situation.
3. Encourage them to communicate
Expressing yourself and sharing your feelings helps alleviate the pain and stress caused by any kind of difficult situation. Encourage your kids to communicate. Encourage them to express how they feel about the divorce as a whole and let out their frustrations.
Expressing themselves help them ease their frustrations and gives them a sense of empowerment. Listen to them, help them find words for their feelings and acknowledge them. Provide them therapy sessions if need be.
4. Don’t fight in front of your kids
Heated conversations, arguments about unreliability or finance are likely to take place under these kinds of circumstances where getting along with your spouse seems nearly impossible. But for the sake of your child, don’t fight in front of your kids or make them tools to exchange insults or anything divorce related
Don’t bring children into your fight at all.
Researchers have found that the amount of parental conflicts witnessed by the child during and immediately after divorce has a crucial role in his/her adjustment. Most poorly adjusted kids are those exposed to conflicts. Keep your kids away from your fights.
5. Avoid blaming or criticizing your spouse in front of your kids
Criticizing and playing blame games impart nothing more than negativity. You can talk about it to your friends outside the home or in private therapy sessions but keep it away from your kids.
Never vent negative feelings to your children seeking support from them, even if they seem to want you to. Don’t expect your kids to take sides and try to make your spouse look guilty in front of them.
It is always advisable to keep a civilized relationship with your partner if at all possible. That helps reduce the tension of the situation and stress on your kids.
6. Stick to their routine
Divorce brings along many changes in routine which children find confusing and stressful. Try to minimize changes for them. Stick to their daily routine and usual activities as much as possible.
Having to adjust to a lot of changes at once can be difficult to anybody-especially children. It puts children under a lot of pressure and as a result, anxious thoughts set off. While they need to learn to be flexible to changes in their routine slowly, as a parent, you should try and minimize disruptions to things they love doing and make them feel that life is still normal.
7. Allow kids to express disappointments
Let your kids vent out their disappointments about the divorce in general or about anything specific. Let them know you understand how they feel and that doesn’t upset you or make you angry.
If you miss a play date with your kid and he/she is disappointed with you about that, he/she is entitled to that feeling and should be able to express it without having to worry about upsetting you.
Being able to express disappointments to their parents helps them recover faster and strengthens parent-child relationship. Offer them mental support and comfort by letting them know that their feelings matter.
8. Aim for peaceful transitions
To help your kids adjust to the new circumstances, try and keep the transitions peaceful. Be flexible enough to allow rescheduling visitations. Be civil and try to keep a good relation with your kids’ other parent.
Present yourself well in front of your spouse no matter how upset or angry you feel, kids notice that. It will help reduce the stress on your kids and the tension of the situation.
9. Seek help from others
Don’t be afraid to seek help from others. Sometimes, it is difficult to handle things alone-you might not know how to deal with the feelings of your children while you yourself are struggling with your own.
So, ask for help to your parents, relatives, friends to help you and your children. Tell their teachers, caretakers about what is happening so they can be understanding and supportive to the kids.
10. Keep yourself healthy
Keep your kids away from your worries. Your kids can sense your mood and your mood largely contributes to the state of their own mood. If they sense tension, they become anxious themselves.
Sadness is contagious. But so is happiness. Seeing their parents happy sends them a good message that everything is still fine. Only a happy parent can keep his/her kids happy. The faster you recover, the better you help your kids cope with the changes.
Keep yourself healthy, eat a healthy diet and exercise often. See your friends and keep yourself occupied with things you like doing. Maintain a healthy ambiance around you and that will help your kid a lot.
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