When “Forever” Changes: How to Help Your Child Cope With Separation or Divorce

Divorce is an emotional rupture.

There is never going to be an easy way to talk to your children about separation and divorce. No two cases are the same, which means that navigating the practical and emotional challenges with your child will depend on your individual circumstances and situation.

And if you are like many of the parents that we see at our practice, you may find yourself feeling totally overwhelmed and wondering where to begin and what to say…

So with that in mind, here are some ideas and suggestions that might be useful to you.

Many parents feel that perhaps they shouldn’t say anything at all – a “less-is-more” approach.

But open communication is vital in facilitating understanding and enhancing coping skills.

Children need to be able to ask questions, clarify, and think about any confusion they may have. And you should try to answer their questions in an honest, yet age-appropriate way.

One of the sayings parents rely on most is the idea that, “This isn’t about you. We still love you and that won’t change.”

However, the harsh truth is that separation and divorce certainly IS about the children.

They will need to adjust to a new family dynamic, which is often fraught with tension, uncertainty, and constant change.

In other words, a whole new way of living.

It may be helpful to explain that divorce is an adult decision, and the “unfair” part of it is that it affects children, even though they are certainly not to blame.

It is important to allow children to grieve. They will undoubtedly feel a wide range of emotions, such as confusion, guilt, anger, sadness, worry, denial or blame.

Healing ultimately happens when children feel they are able to process and express their feelings, and it is vital that they have an outlet to do so.

This will take time; sometimes years. Resolution doesn’t mean that children no longer feel sad or angry. It just means they have reached a level of acceptance that there is a new way of being.

Children should never become mediators and messengers. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is a strong, nurturing and trusting relationship with you. They will appreciate it in the long run.

Children are adaptable and resilient. In this sense it is OK if the rules and norms in each home vary slightly. After all, no two parents are the same. But consistency within each home is key.

Children may feel enormous loss at being separated from one parent at any given time. Remind them that even when they are not with you, you are still their parent. You still love them, think about them and care for them.

Inform other people who can potentially offer support, as appropriate. Your school and network of friends may be able to offer different kinds of support.

There is no doubt that divorce and separation is an exceptionally difficult time for everyone involved.

Be patient, and remember that it is a process. Progress may seem slow and gruelling at times.

The best gift you can give your child and yourself is the time, care and patience to adjust and forge a new way forwards.

If you would like some extra help and guidance with parenting, or counselling for your child, please feel free to get in touch.

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