Helping children cope with divorce may sometimes involve putting your own feelings aside and focusing on the emotional needs of your children. You may want to shout from the rooftops that your ex-spouse is selfish and mean spirited, but sharing these opinions with your children is inappropriate and can make divorce even harder for children coping with divorce.
You undoubtedly have your own feelings with regards to your divorce, but keep in mind that children will also have their own perspective of what is going on. Even very young children can be confused and angry about the changes in their family dynamic, and if nobody takes the time to explain the situation to them or encourages them to ask questions, their thought patterns may turn to blaming themselves for the break up of the marriage.
Look at the situation from a child's perspective. The child may correlate something completely unrelated to the divorce as the root cause of the marriage ending. For example, suppose your child disobeys one evening and then the next morning the parents announce a divorce. While there is certainly no correlation between the two events, in a young child's mind, the disobedience is the cause.
For this reason, it is imperative for parents to be vigilant about encouraging children to ask questions. People who are going through a particularly rough divorce may shy away from answering questions because they simply do not want to talk about the painful experience. This is a normal reaction, but when it comes to helping children cope with divorce, sometimes it is necessary to disregard your own emotional comfort for the sake of your child.
While it is important to be as honest and frank with your children as possible, it is not always in their best interest to know the complete truth of the situation. Children may not benefit from learning that their father has had countless affairs or that their mother has a gambling addiction. Edit your responses to your children's questions when appropriate, depending upon their age and maturity level.
Helping Children Cope with Divorce as a Team
If your ex-spouse is still in the picture, it is important to work as a team to ease children into the inevitable transitions that take place with divorce. Make a pact with your ex-spouse to never use the children as sounding boards for your complaints. Children -even older children- should never be placed in a position to have to choose between one side or another when it comes to their divorcing parents. This is unfair to the children and can lead to emotional turmoil.
Just because you do not want to stay married does not mean that the two of you can no longer effectively parent as a team.
Children respond to divorce differently. While some children may appear unphased by the divorce, others may become completely withdrawn and perhaps even aggressive. It is a good idea to give your children the opportunity to speak to a professional who is well versed in helping children cope with divorce. A licensed mental health practitioner, such as a therapist or psychologist, will not only provide a safe place for children to talk about their feelings but will also assist children in acknowledging their feelings and giving them tools to deal with the feelings effectively.
Maintain Your Role
Getting divorced does not make you any less a father or mother. Maintain your parental role despite the big changes divorce can bring. Big changes can be upsetting and confusing to a child, and these changes are only made worse by a parent who abruptly stops serving effectively in a parental capacity. You may want to linger in bed all day feeling sad, or jump right back into the dating scene by going out every night, but keep in mind that your decisions do not only affect you.
Children of divorce can indeed thrive and go on to one day have a successful marriage of their own. Help them cope with the divorce by encouraging them to talk about their feelings and by maintaining your role as a parent.