Kristin Bachman, Ph.D.
5 Tips to Help Your Child Transition through Divorce
Are you the proactive parent that recognizes that divorce isn’t just difficult for you, but for your child or teen? Are you struggling to come up with the right words or desire to build a healthy relationship going forward? Or have months gone by and your child is still struggling to make it through the day? Regardless of why you’re here, below are my top 5 tips that will help your child cope with the change and navigate the challenges of divorce.
#1: It’s not their fault…so tell them!!
It’s a natural response for your child to process all the events prior to your divorce and feel that they are somehow responsible or part of the reason you are splitting up. Whether it’s the arguments they had with one parent or not wanting to engage with the family or younger children that don't fully grasp the change that create feelings of guilt. Sadly, these can become movies that repeatedly play over in their minds. As these feelings become more and more internalized, the more targeted you need to be about addressing the specific scenarios they believe led to your relationship's demise.
This is where co-parenting can significantly help. When you and your spouse are on the same page, hopefully you can communicate and collectively tackle the challenges your child is struggling with. Even if you and your ex-spouse don’t openly communicate or still have a contentious relationship, it’s critical to take the blame out of the conversation. Yes, it’s easier to blame the other parent and may temporarily make you feel better but take a second to respond. There is nothing constructive that can come from blaming your ex, especially if you want your child to have a healthy relationship with each of you.
#2: Honesty is the best policy
Be honest and tell them the truth. Your kids want to understand why mom and dad aren’t together anymore. Think of all the random questions they ask you in the car, it’s no surprise that they seek to know more. No, don’t give them the gory details of your trials and tribulations but not knowing creates a wedge in their respective relationship with each of you.
Even if your spouse had issues with substance abuse or infidelity, there are productive ways to communicate why you are no longer together. Just make it age appropriate. Think of the books your children read; this is no different, the older they are, the more detailed you can be. Just remember, the conversation starts with "I...", do your best to minimize blame.
"I lost the passion in our relationship and I was enticed by other women/men. I broke the trust between us and unfortunately, it cannot be repaired."
"I did everything I could to help mom/dad overcome their addiction. Unfortunately, I was always a second priority and I hope these drastic measures help mom/dad change."
"Over time, my opinions about how we spend our money and time as a family have significantly differed from mom/dad. It's reached the point where we feel it's best for each of us to move on."
Remind them that it okay to love both parents. You might question the motives and parenting style which can make this feel disingenuous, but your child needs a healthy relationship with both parents to ensure they have a healthy model for their personal relationships down the road.
#3: Remember, God gave you two ears to listen and one mouth to speak. So, listen more and be patient.
This is a huge change for your kids and most likely came as a surprise. Start the conversation letting them know that their feelings of anxiety and stress are normal. Part of the healing process is opening the lines of communication and letting them know that you are here to listen, no matter the question.
Open the conversation with the basics: Living Arrangements and Time Allocation between Parents
Give them several hours to digest these changes if they don't have any immediate questions.
Set aside time and force a conversation
It’s a process, not a race to the finish, so be empathetic
Ask and share new ideas to bond with each other
Be empathetic. Sounds easy, since it is your child, but their reactions and emotions are going to be different from yours, and that’s okay. There are so many changes your child is adapting to, let them know how much you love them and that you are always available for them. Remember to set aside time so they know you are always available for them. If they are bottling up their feelings and questions, it can trigger depression, issues with their grades and complications with their friends. Make sure you reach out for professional help when these signs are prevalent.
#4: A cold day in hell?…While you know there’s no chance of getting back together, make sure they do to.
Change is difficult for all of us and the more we try to keep things as they once were, the more confused your child will be. You need to create a new dynamic with new responsibilities, expectations and traditions.
The last thing you want to do is create false hope. No doubt relationships are complicated, but it is imperative to vacation separately, celebrate birthdays and other holidays apart from each other. The more you mix and blend these social situations together, the more likely they are to believe that life will go back to the way it once was.
#5: Keep open lines of communication with their teachers. Prepare for the social and scholastic challenges they will likely face.
You might have open conversations, feel like there are making progress adapting to their new norm, but actions speak louder than words. Your child will struggle to focus at school; it’s imperative that you proactively engage with their teachers. Asking for test scores or the quality of homework assignments will help benchmark progress, but it’s important to ask how they are engaging in class activities and with their friends.
Don’t forget to forward the emails to the other parent. Sure, you’re doing all the leg work, but when both parents are tackling their child’s challenges, the ability to move forward will happen in short order.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Coping with divorce doesn’t have to rest on your shoulders alone. Seeking unbiased 3rd party can help better assess the emotional state of all parties involved. Ideally, co-parenting sessions, that include both parents, will open conversations surrounding common rules and boundaries between households. Structure and alignment can get your child on track.
I hope you found these 5 tips helpful, feel free to like or share on Facebook. If you have further questions, our team is here to help! Call (858) 663-0651.