Helping Your Children Manage Their Feelings
Encourage kids to openly discuss their feelings – positive or negative – about what’s happening.
If you are separated or divorced, it is important to understand that children will experience a sense of loss of family and will go through their own grieving process.
It is not unusual for them to feel angry and scared, or to blame you or the other parent – or both – for what is going on in their lives. They might feel guilty and imagine that they “caused” the problem. This is particularly true for kids who overheard their parents arguing about them.
Encourage your children to say what they’re thinking and feeling. Validating their emotions will help them to process and work through them more quickly. The challenge is to keep your emotional issues separate from theirs. If you feel like you may get too upset, ask a relative or close friend to talk to them.
It’s OK for children to see their parents feel sad or angry, but if you try to force a “happy face” and hide your own sadness, your kids may be less likely to share their true feelings with you. Be cautious about getting too emotional though as that can result in kids feeling responsible and trying to take care of you. Kids need to be allowed to be kids and they need the security of your support, not the other way around.
Be prepared to answer your kid’s questions and concerns. Check in with them often about the divorce and how it’s affecting them. As time passes, they will often have questions or concerns that they hadn’t thought of earlier. Even if it seems like you’ve gone over the same topics before, keep the dialogue open. If possible, sit down with the other parent and plan how you’re going to talk to your child or children about what is going on.
Although children may struggle with a divorce for quite some time, the real impact is usually felt over about a 2- to 3-year period, even longer if parental conflict continues. During this time, some will be able to voice their feelings but, depending on their age and development, other kids just won’t have the words. They may instead act out or be depressed. For school-age kids, this is usually evident when their grades drop or they lose interest in activities. For younger children, these feelings are often expressed during play.
Keep your conflict and arguments away from the kids.
Research indicates that the single biggest impediment to healthy adjustment for kids of divorce is the level of parental conflict they are exposed to. It puts kids in impossible loyalty binds if they feel pressured to take sides or listen to negative things said about one of their parents. Keep the parental issues between you and out of earshot of the kids.
On the other hand, it is also important to acknowledge real events. If, for example, one spouse has simply abandoned the family by moving out, you need to acknowledge what has happened. It isn’t your responsibility to sugar-coat your ex-spouse’s behaviour — but if your kids want to ask you questions, it’s important to answer as neutrally and as factually as possible.
Try not to use kids as messengers or go-betweens, especially when you’re quarreling.
Although it may seem easier for you, do not use your kids as messengers. There are plenty of other ways to communicate with your ex-partner. Also, resist questioning your child about what is happening in the other household — kids resent it when they feel that they’re being asked to “spy” on the other parent. Wherever possible, communicate directly with the other parent about relevant matters, such as co-parenting scheduling, , health issues, or school problems.
Expect resistance and difficulties as children adjust to a new mate or the mate’s kids.
New relationships, blended families, and remarriages are among the most difficult aspects of the readjustment process and will typically result in another period of upheaval. Keeping lines of communication open, allowing one-on-one time for parents and kids, and watching for signs of stress in your children can help prevent problems from developing or escalating out of control.