Informing your children about divorce and helping them get through the process is one of the hardest things you will ever do as a parent. The initial stage of the separation is usually the toughest since the parents are also dealing with the distress.
How children react to divorce
The way a child responds and adjusts to the news of their parents getting divorced depends on his or her age. In the first year following separation, toddlers tend to have increased separation anxiety. There is also a relapse in language skills and potty training or a suffering from sleep or eating disorders.
Preschoolers may experience the same phenomena, but because they may not fully comprehend that the change is irreversible, they may demand to see a parent they do not regularly see, become insolent or difficult and may even become manipulative, particularly if the parents have different instructions.
Elementary-school-age children may claim responsibility for the separation, make moves to reunite the parents overreact, or suffer nightmares.
While many of these signs may stop within a few years, especially if the parents keep a cordial relationship, occasional flare-ups may occur, particularly on occasions like birthdays or holidays. The following are ways you can help your child through a divorce.
Helping your child through divorce
Make the explanation relatable with the child
It is quite easy for parents to delve into lengthy conversations from their personal perspective. This will definitely confuse your child. Instead, carefully enlighten them that in some cases, adults may decide not to live with each other anymore. Comfort your children that the two parents will always love and never neglect them.
Tell them about the separation together. Preferably, the two parents should be available to break the news to their children. You should be sure to let them understand that:
- Both of you will remain an important part of their lives
- They will have two homes where they will get affection
- It was an adult decision and was not related to anything they did or said – it is not their fault
Watch your child's reaction
Hear your children out and let them understand that it is normal to feel upset. You can book a preventive counseling session. This will create a standalone support system for the children to feel confident to talk about their opinion and emotional state honestly.
Maintain your routine
As much as possible, maintain your regular routine to give your child a sense of calm and order. Keep activities such as school drop-offs and pickups, family and friends visits, extracurricular activities and bedtime the same. Changing their regular routine may upset children that may otherwise not overreact with surprises.
Take care of yourself
Kids require parents who are exemplary and are not hesitant to talk about difficult times with a friend, family member or counselor. This guides the children to be honest with trusted adults too. Parents may require counseling to go through the hardships of separation and enable them to focus on caring for their children. Other alternatives include local support groups and religious networks.
Children emulate adults when it comes to grief and loss. If you overreact, shut down, eat poorly, talk badly about the other parent and fail to care for yourself, then they will likely follow that path.