Helping kids cope with parental divorce
Experts reckon that over 40% of marriages end in divorce, with many children every year experiencing their parents splitting up. It can be an unsettling time for children of any age, and getting all round parenting advice at this time will be more important than ever.
Breaking the news
Inevitably, children will be shocked, sad and upset to hear that their parents are breaking up. How you go about explaining this to children depends on their age, but it’s always important to emphasise, at any age, that the child is absolutely not to blame for anything that has happened, and that they are very much loved. Be as honest and open as possible, and have both parents present, if possible, when breaking the news.
An important concern for children will be how their parents’ divorce will impact on their lives, so discuss with them what changes will occur from now onwards, as best as you can. Children like routine in their lives, so if big changes are to occur, such as moving to a new area or new school following the divorce, provide as much information about these changes as possible. If youngsters have any questions or worries, answer or address these, to reassure them.
Unfortunately, some parental breakups are acrimonious. Where there is anxiety, tension and discord between parents, it’s imperative not to express these feelings or emotions in front of children. Avoid using children as pawns in a difficult divorce scenario, and put conflict aside for their best interests. Don’t bad-mouth each other in front of the kids or persuade them to take sides, even if your ex-partner is to blame for the marriage falling apart. It can be incredibly difficult for parents going through a break-up, so seeking counselling or therapist support can help you to deal with your feelings and reach a mutual understanding, which is, ultimately, better for the sake of the children.
Consistency for kids
Let children get used to their new living arrangements as gradually as you can, and once they settle into a routine, try to keep their lives consistent. It can help a child enormously to adapt if they stick to familiar and same routines, such as bedtimes, doing homework, diets and discipline. No matter how hard it might be, try to work with your ex-partner to establish routines that your child can follow when they spend time separately with each parent.
Reactions and behaviours
Divorce is difficult for any child to deal with, but with the right support they can learn to adapt and cope with the new changes in their life. Keep your eyes open for any behaviours or reactions to the situation, which could suggest that they are struggling to cope. This could be anything from temper tantrums and difficulties at school, to bed-wetting and developing eating disorders. If you notice any changes in your child, encourage them to talk about how they feel, and seek help from an expert, such as a counsellor or therapist.