Parents, Kids and Divorce
This is a guest blog from my college roommate and Clinical Psychologist, Salmaan Toor. He offers some great advice on how to help children handle the divorce process.
There is no easy way to say it, a divorce breaks up a family. However, a divorce doesn’t have to leave a family broken. Divorce can be very messy. If you are a parent getting a divorce, there are many ways that you can make the process easier on your kids. Here are a few suggestions on how to help your kids through a divorce:
It’s not your fault. You would be surprised by how many kids feel that the divorce is their fault. Kids tell me they think their parents are getting divorced because they didn’t brush their teeth enough or because they cry when they fall. It’s very important to let your children know that the divorce has nothing to do with them, and has everything to do with the parents.
Minimize exposure to conflict. Don’t fight in front of your kids, just don’t do it. No, it doesn’t help them learn that fighting is a part of a relationship. They have their entire lives to learn that, including their own peer and romantic relationships. When conflict arises, save the conversation for a later time when the kids are at school, at a friend’s house, or when you and your spouse can assure privacy.
Allow your children to process their feelings. Your kids may seem okay, but they are feeling and thinking all sorts of things. Give them a space to process their feelings. Ask them regularly how they are feeling about everything and keep in contact with teachers and other adults in their lives. If they don’t want to talk to you, find a therapist or a trusted family member or friend that they can confide in. Let them be angry, sad, and even critical.
Don’t use your kids as messengers. Don’t do it. If there is something that needs to be said to your ex, find a way to do it without involving your kids. If talking in person is unproductive, use the phone. If that is unproductive use email or send a letter. All too often, kids are seen as the mediators. It’s unhealthy and can have long-lasting, negative effects on your kids.
Avoid criticizing your ex in front of the kids. Divorce is hard, especially when you feel you were betrayed or hurt in the process. It’s important to remember that as frustrated and angry you might be at your ex, your ex is still your kids’ parent. Kids report one of the hardest things for them is hearing one parent talk badly about the other parent. It makes kids uncomfortable, sad, confused, and resentful.
Try to keep some level of stability. A divorce is extremely unsettling in many ways. Two houses, constantly moving back and forth, new family members, etc. are all major changes. Keep some sense of stability in your kids’ lives by maintaining their hobbies, friendships, and other interests. If Saturday night is movie night, then keep it that way.
Take care of yourself. The divorce process is stressful, even if at some level it’s a relief. Find support in family and friends, seek out therapy if needed, and participate in appropriate activities that help relieve your stress. Like any stressful experience, self-care is vital for your physical and psychological well-being.
Reassure and love your kids. Last but not least, love your kids. Make certain that they know they still have two parents who love them very much. Kids need to know that they are loved and cherished in difficult times, especially when they feel they may be a part of the issue. It’s important to be more attuned to your kids during a divorce, they need to be reassured of their importance in your life.
These are general tips for helping your children during the divorce process. These strategies can also be helpful for families that aren’t going through a separation or divorce. Each family is unique and you may find yourself thinking one or all of these tips don’t relate to your family. That’s okay. My hope is that the general themes presented can fit in some way for each family.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share.
Salmaan Toor, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Find more great family information from Dr. Toor at: www.tfcknoxville.com