Ease the pain of divorce on children

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Divorce can be scary. The ending of a marriage is going to manifest many powerful emotions and feelings of uncertainty. When there is a child or children in the mix, that uncertainty can be even more overwhelming. For whatever the reason, when the decision to divorce has been made it’s going to change the lives of you and your family. But it is possible to mitigate some of the negative effects of these changes and help your child adjust to their new life.

Focus on the children

No matter how amicable your divorce is, it’s crucial that you and your partner remain on the same page in terms of your child. Working out similar routines, guidelines, and methods of discipline will help your child through this time of uncertainty.

Show your child affection and affirm your love for them. Express your love for them physically as well as paying attention to their emotions and validating everything they might be feeling.

As much as possible, try to create a stable environment where open communication is encouraged. Your child should feel that they can come to you and let you know how these changes are making them feel.

Although a divorce may be very painful, your child should not be a sounding board for you to vent about your former partner. Remember that this person is also a parent of your child and your child loves them. Make sure you have a support system that you can go to when you need to talk about and process your feelings.

Limit change

Divorce is a big change. No matter how much you love your child or how much you try to protect them, this event will leave a lasting effect. But if you can try to limit the amount and severity of the changes your child goes through, the impact will probably be a lot less negative.

The age of your child will determine many of the ways that they will be able to handle change, but generally, you want to try and keep up the routines that the child is familiar with. If circumstances allow, keep them in the same school, same activities, and same social group.

You want to give your child a sense that their lives are in control.

Build the relationship with your child

Fostering your relationship with your child during the transition of divorce can have an enormously positive influence on the resiliency of your child.

Commit to one-on-one time with your child, affirm their strengths, reinforce positive behaviours, and listen to them without judgement.

Make sure your child knows:

  • That it is not their fault that their parents are getting divorced

  • They are not alone. Thousands of kids get through their parents’ separation or divorce every year, and they will too

  • Parents divorce each other, not their children

Show understanding for their emotions

When parents’ divorce, many children react with painful emotions like guilt, sadness, anger, worry, fear, and confusion. There is a feeling of grief and loss that comes when one parent moves out of the house that the family shared.

You can help your kids with these strong emotions by helping them learn to identify and name the emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel these things and that they can come to you to talk about them.

You should also be a model to your children by showing them how you handle your feelings through the divorce process. You don’t need to hide your sadness, frustration, grief, or other emotions you’re feeling from your child, but show them how to express these emotions in healthy ways.

Take care of yourself

There is no arguing that you will be a better parent if you take care of yourself, and that includes all aspects of your health – nutrition, sleep, social connection, stress management, and exercise. All of these areas of wellness need to be nurtured for your well-being to be at its best. It can be overwhelming to manage all of life’s responsibilities, and this can be tougher as a parent. But by doing your best to make sure that your needs are met, you will be able to give more fully to the needs of your child.

Like any of life’s challenges, take the divorce process one step at a time. This journey of change for you and your children will take time to feel comfortable and normal. Love them. Love yourself. You can emerge from this and thrive.

If you need guidance, Calgary Counselling Centre offers a 10-week group counselling program called Children of Divorce that helps to reduce the trauma of divorce and helps parents develop a functional co-parenting relationship.

Katherine Hurtig