At any age, divorce can be extremely difficult for children to cope with and manage.
Parents play an integral role in helping children heal from their experience of grief of the changes in their family, loss of the other primary parent in their lives, conflict between two people they love immensely, and healing from the experiences pre- and post separation.
Invest in seeking resources which may help you to access tools and strategies to supporting moving forward. Separation and divorce does not have to be difficult, and by working together, reducing egos, and healing parents can support their children while healing from their own changed relationship.
Helping Children Through Separation and Divorce by Liana Lowenstein, MSW is an excellent resource providing tips to guide parents on how to manage talking to their children about divorce and separation.
Living with Mom and Living with Dad by Melanie Walsh is one of the many books which help your child understand changes in their family, and address their feelings of loss. For example, children in separated families begin to learn how to cope with having two families, two different bedrooms, two different rules and expectations, new people to get used to, and so much more. Many parents trivialize how difficult these changes can be for their children because children work so hard to “keep it together”. Storytelling can be a powerful way to encourage children to talk about their feelings.
In the process prior to separation, children may have been exposed to parents arguing with each other, raised voices, swearing and disparaging comments about each other, emotional distress by both or either parents, physical violence (hitting, punching, spitting, coercing, and more) between parents or other family members, intensified drug or alcohol use, and/or police involvement. These events can be traumatizing for children. Trauma disrupts a child’s emotional and cognitive development. Some of the behaviors you may see from your child are listed in: Helping your Child Heal.
Help your child heal and move forward by encouraging them to identify and talk about their feelings. This AMAZING resource is a workbook you can use with your child or with your child’s psychotherapist. My Feelings Work Book
Supporting your family heal is an approach that requires both parents to agree upon helping their child. Some important steps include:
- Get Help! Seek the support of a parenting coach or a mediator prior to separation and throughout the process to help with the transition and keeping parents on the same page. Co-parenting courses can help teach parents skills on how to work together and resolve past issues which continue to “get in the way” of moving forward.
- Counselling works! Ensure your children and yourselves have clinical support during the separation and divorce process. Use your Employee Assistance Program as the first step for a short-term 3-6 session “check-in” with your child to ensure they are supported. Obtain tips and strategies from your EAP counsellor on how to best support your child through the transition. As your child develops and changes occur in your family constellation, engage in additional support.
- Storytelling! Try to encourage your child to talk and know what to expect with a range of books and stories designed to help your child.
- Communicate! In the past, poor communication may have helped to break down the relationship between parents. Try Talking Parent and Family Wizard to start communicating in healthy ways with each other. These sites are also available for scheduling between parents, resolving conflicts in a healthy way, and maintaining safety.