How can you best support your children whilst going through a divorce or separation?
Divorce or separation can be a very confusing, unsettling and upsetting time for children, no matter what their age. Children can often end up feeling caught in the middle and in some cases, even blame themselves for the breakdown of their parents’ relationship. There are, however, some key things you can do to help support your child or children during this difficult time.
How do I best support my child?
- Leave your own feelings to one side. Before you talk with your child or children, it is important to acknowledge the feelings you may have towards your ex, so that you can actively set these aside when talking with your child or children about their feelings;
- Avoid blame. Whatever is going on between you and your ex is an adult matter between the two of you and not something that your children need to hear;
- Listen more than you speak. This will allow your child or children the space they may need to fully open up;
- Stay calm. Your child or children are juggling really big emotions and will be worried about making the situation worse, help them to understand that their concerns and questions are normal;
- Be honest. It is okay that you don’t know all of the answers right there and then, you can provide reassurance and remind them that whatever happens they are loved;
- Acknowledge their emotions. It is important that your child or children know that it is okay to feel upset or angry;
- Provide reassurance. Strong and constant reassurance will help develop your child or children’s resilience, but make sure you don’t promise something you can’t deliver;
- Maintain predictable and reliable routines. Going to school or clubs and keeping specific meal times can all help to maintain structure for your child or children in a time where they are struggling with uncertainty;
- Explain that things will take time. Reassure them that nothing is going to happen overnight;
- Take time out with them. Just like us children need time to process how they are feeling, so they may not want to talk about things in detail the first time you speak to them. It is good to provide regular times when they can ‘check in’ with you about how they are feeling;
- Make sure they know nothing is their fault. A lot of children may feel their parents’ separation is in some way because of them or something they have done or said. Even if this isn’t something your child or children have admitted, it is worth telling them explicitly that it is not their fault and reminding them that they are loved by both their parents;
- Encourage them to use their wider support network. This is particularly key for older children who may feel much more comfortable talking with their peers about how they are feeling; and
- Getting support yourself if you are struggling. Make sure you are getting support for yourself. Remember, you can offer the best support to your child or children if you are feeling supported too. This support may come in many forms: friends, therapists and of course, legal advisors.