Separation and divorce are painful and traumatic for an adult. If it’s difficult for you, imagine the effect on a child, that can’t completely understand what’s happening, or why it’s happening. Here is how to help a child deal with divorce, following a few simple steps will help to reduce the stress of the situation.
Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Stress
- Ideally both parents should be present when a child is told the news. If this is not possible, then so be it… but deliver the news in a sensitive manner, and try to keep emotionalism to a minimum.
- Tailor the discussion to your child’s age and development.
- Emphasize the basic message, “You are loved and will always be loved”.
- Make sure your child understands that the change in the household has nothing to do with him.
- Don’t anticipate a particular reaction. The child may not completely comprehend the news, and may act unresponsive. Alternatively, the child may become very angry. Whatever the response, reiterate to your child that he is loved and will always be loved.
- So much as possible, try to keep the same routine. Sometimes, this isn’t possible. For example, the matrimonial house may have to be sold, and a move to an apartment may follow. If this is the case, it’s even more important to try to keep consistency in routine to provide reassurance and support, to the child.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Reassure your child that you want to know what’s thinking, and what he’s feeling. Spend a generous amount of quality time with your child so that he is comfortable sharing his thoughts with you, in a quiet moment.
- Allow your child to “vent”; sometimes, there’s nothing you can do except allow your child to express his anger and frustration. A positive outlook will help, but the “venting” is probably inevitable.
- Try to incorporate a “happy ritual” into your lifestyle with your child. For example, at the end of the day, when your child goes to sleep, ask him what he most appreciated that day, you have to do this as well! Placing focus on positive aspects of your life will help to detract from the negative, and help to start the healing process for both of you.
- If you note undue signs of stress, it may be appropriate to get outside help, for example, a child psychologist.
How to Explain Separation to Children
One of the most difficult tasks in the process of separation and divorce is explaining to the children why Daddy is leaving. The manner in which you undertake the explanation will differ, depending upon the age(s) of the children. However, the general guidelines below may assist with this step. Modify the guidelines depending upon your unique family circumstance.
- Try to set aside your anger before you speak to your children. Your anger, rage is completely normal. However, while it’s okay and understandable for your children to see you express your sadness (if it happens) on the odd occasion following the separation, it’s NOT okay for your children to see you express your rage at your former partner. Make a commitment to shield your children from parental conflict. Even if the other parent does not keep their commitment, continue your own commitment.
- If possible, tell children together when the decision has been made. If this isn’t viable, pick an appropriate time and place to tell your children. If there is a wide range in children’s ages, it may be helpful later to talk to each one separately after the initial announcement to give more or less information according to age.
- Make it clear to the children that the decision has nothing to do with them, and that they are loved unconditionally and will always be a priority in your heart.
- Don’t overload the children with information that is too advanced, for example, they don’t need to know the details of your former partner’s infidelity.
- Let the children know gently that they cannot fix it or get you back together.
- Understand that your children will experience feelings of hurt and anger, and that together, all of you will have to simply work through this, the best you can.
- Try to maintain life “as normal as possible”; in other words, make as little change in your child’s life as possible. Of course, you may have to make changes due to financial circumstances. Despite this, try to maintain a schedule similar to that pre-separation, etc.
- Let the children know that their father is going to remain in their life. Hopefully, the separation is amicable vis a vis the children, and their father will welcome a telephone call from them when they wish to speak with him, etc. Alternatively, explain to them that they will see their father soon, at the scheduled contact date and time.
Example of How to Tell Children:
Parent who is leaving: “I am going to move to a new place on Saturday morning. You are going to live here with (ie.Mommy) and keep going to the same school and be with all your friends. When I get all my stuff moved in, you can come and see my new house because sometimes you will be able to stay with me overnight. You will have a place to sleep at my house too because I will always be your Mommy/Daddy.
We have arranged right now for you to live here, but to visit (Mommy/Daddy) every _____________ . You can also stay at my house overnight on ______________ . You can talk with me on the phone on ____________ and ______________ nights if you want.
We will always love you and will always take care of you!