Children are often bemused by their parents divorce. They are usually aware of ongoing tensions and upset, but young children especially are good at accepting this as their normal everyday situation. They become inured to what is going on around them even if it causes them distress. Divorce can result in them feeling many conflicting emotions; relief, sadness, fear at what is to happen.
Divorce may result in children feeling obligated to take sides, to decide who is the good or bad parent. They may feel that they can only be loyal to one parent, which effectively may mean rejecting or disapproving of the other.
Let’s look at some tips to help children cope with the divorce of their parents.
– An ally is important. Someone to talk to, whether it be a grandparent, schoolteacher, family friend, someone who is sympathetic and listens can help a child come to terms with their new situation. At first a child may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their change in circumstances, especially if it means moving home, explaining why one parent is absent or their financial freedom is curtailed. They need to feel certain that their confidante is trustworthy, honest, impartial and will not betray their secrets unless they have no choice and it is essential to do so.
– Seeing their parents remain civil is important in helping children cope better. Many children fear that they are being disloyal to one parent if they are nice to the other. Seeing their parents communicate and be polite with each other helps children feel more comfortable with the divorce process and any resulting changes. Children take their lead from their parents. Treating each other with respect and good manners teaches children about adult relationships and positive ways in which to handle conflict.
– Routine is important to children. Children cope better when they understand how divorce will affect their life. Where they will live, arrangements for school, ongoing contact with each parent are all issues of immense importance to a child. They need reassurance as to how they will be affected. Any questions need to be answered with due regard.
– Remaining calm about one’s ex is a big ask but children need to avoid being drawn into their parent’s arguments. Feeling under pressure to take sides, express negative opinions, be interrogated by one parent about the other are all unacceptable situations for a child. This can result in children having divided loyalties, becoming manipulative or feeling bitter and angry at the situation.
– Children are adept at playing one parent against the other. They quickly become skilled at manipulating their parents into getting what they want. After a divorce this situation can be exacerbated by several factors; ongoing tension between the couple, disparity of financial income, the different lifestyles lived by each parent. These factors can result in one parent feeling that they are perceived as inferior to the other, which in turn may be sensed by their children. In an ideal world each parent should respect their ex’s role. The reality is often very different. Refusing to participate in oneupmanship can help the children and the situation settle down.
– Guilt is often a serious factor for a divorced parent. They feel bad about the failure of the marriage, the breakup of the home, disrupting their children’s lives. Accepting that their parents are upset at the divorce, feel bad, upset, even unwell for a time can help children grieve in their own way. Being able to discuss the new situation helps children to talk openly about their feelings, come to terms with them and learn that they do not have to be strong and hide their distress at what has happened.
Coping tips for children include reassuring them:
That they are not to blame for their parents’ divorce,
That both parents still love them,
That can have contact with either parent whenever they want, even if it is by phone or internet,
How their routine will be in the future, what changes they can expect,
That they can ask questions which will be answered as truthfully as possible.
The main way children cope is by appreciating that whilst their parents divorced each other they did not divorce them. Those relationships are a completely separate matter.