9 ways to help your child through divorce
Divorce is a process of change that has very strong health repercussions for those involved.
As adults it is difficult for us to adapt and digest the situation, for children it is more complicated because they interpret the situation in a very different way, usually experiencing guilt, anxiety, and frustration. They tend to externalize, or “act out” and managing that behavior at that age can be difficult. It is necessary that as adults we can create a framework of containment to help children overcome this stage of change in the best possible way.
Here are nine steps you can take to mitigate the effect of divorce on your children.
1. Communicate the news appropriately.
Due to the adversarial nature of divorce, the welfare of your children may take a back seat and may not be a priority. If the separation did not occur in the context of abuse, it is important that both parties try to negotiate and not get involved in unilateral decisions or whims, as it may interfere with the stability of the children, seriously affecting their behavior. Routines are very important to create an environment of stability and, therefore, security. Agree on activities, schedules, limits, and permissions beforehand, the fewer changes and unexpected situations there are, the better.
2. Negotiate as much as possible with your partner regarding shared parenting and custody.
Due to the nature of the breakup, the welfare of your children will likely take a back seat, will be taken for granted, and will not be a priority. If the separation did not occur in the context of abuse, it is important that both parties try to negotiate and not get involved in unilateral decisions or whims, as it interferes with the stability of the children, seriously affecting their behavior. Routines are very important to create an environment of stability and, therefore, security. Agree on activities, schedules, limits, and permissions beforehand, the fewer changes and unexpected situations there are, the better.
It is limits and discipline that help you maintain an environment of normalcy and provide security. A permissive parent is synonymous with weakness and lack of confidence.
3. Be concise and honest.
Even if you don't have the answer, your child needs to be able to communicate with you. Although it may not seem like it, they become very perceptive about the honesty with which we answer questions. Think short and simple answers, don't try to go into the decisions and situations that led to the divorce, and don't complicate yourself by explaining the details. Be concise and honest.
4. Insists on the fact that it is not their fault.
The importance of explaining and reaffirming that the breakup of their parents is not their fault is important for their mental health, avoiding a trauma that is difficult to overcome. This explanation should be age-appropriate. Avoid giving them information that involves stress, problems, and physical and psychological wear and tears, as it can be misinterpreted.
5. Avoid exposing them to arguments and taking sides.
Unfortunately, the experience of divorce for a child has a very strong emotional charge, so the images and sensations brought by arguments and fights between parents increase the unpleasant feeling of breakup, abandonment, guilt, and insecurity, among other negative feelings.
6. Do not use your children
A great temptation when going through a divorce is to use the children as a means to annoy our ex-partner. We may try to turn our children against them, bad-mouth them, change schedules or activities at the last minute by using them as a pretext, or use them to send messages. The list can go on. However, the only ones who are harmed in this power struggle are the children, who will feel conscience, guilt, and resentment. Try to talk to each other pleasantly in front of the children and if it is not possible, it is better not to say anything at all.
7. Reassure them of your love
Taking for granted that our children know we love them can be interpreted by them as meaning they are no longer loved. Parents need to demonstrate love with actions and listen to how their children feel and what difficulties they may be having. Let them know that their feelings and decisions are valid. It is also important to verbalize your love for them, to tell them that you still love them the same as before, that they are important to you, and that you enjoy spending time with them. This will help strengthen their bond with you as well as gain a sense of security.
8. Don't allow your children to be your emotional support
It is important to have a support network of friends, family, and mental health professionals who you can talk to about how you are feeling, who you can call when you are feeling very bad and who can listen and guide you. Our children cannot be part of this network, they cannot be part of this emotional support, even if they seem willing to listen to us and offer us a shoulder to cry on. We need to understand that this is not their role, and it is a burden they should not have to carry.
9. If the situation overwhelms you, seek professional psychological assistance
Seek professional help when you feel the challenge of raising your child is beyond you. If you detect worrying symptoms in your child that are damaging their mental or physical health. It is important to normalize the help of health professionals and go to them when we go through times of crisis and change.