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Helping your child during your divorce

Maria Fernandes

Divorce is tough for everyone, especially children. How they react depends on their age, personality and the circumstances of the separation and divorce process. The initial reaction is one of shock, sadness, frustration, anger or worry.

The most important things that both parents can do to help their children through this difficult time are:

Keep visible conflict, heated discussions, and legal talk away from the children.

Minimise the disruptions to children’s daily routines.

Confine negativity and blame to private therapy sessions or conversations with friends outside the home.

Keep each other involved in their children’s lives.

Here are some ways to help children cope with the shock, fear and anger of a divorce:

Encourage honesty and help them put their feelings into words. They way children behave can clue you in to their feelings of sadness or anger. Be a good listener, even if it’s difficult for you to hear what they have to say.

Legitimise their feelings. It is important to let children know that their feelings are valid and encourage them to get it all out before you start offering ways to make it better..

Offer support. This is a very crucial and difficult time for your child. They need all the support they can get especially from you. Ask how you can help. Sometimes the answer may not be to your liking but at least you can hear them out.

Keep yourself healthy. Finding ways to manage your own stress is essential for you and your entire family. By making sure you’re taking care of your own needs, you can ensure that you’ll be in the best possible shape to take care of your children.

Keep the details in check. Take care to ensure privacy when discussing the details of the divorce with friends, family or your lawyer. Try to keep your interactions with your ex as civil as possible, especially when you’re interacting in front of the children.

Get help. This is not the time to do it alone. Find a support group, talk to others who have gone through this, use online resources, or ask your doctor or religious leaders to refer you to other resources. Getting help yourself sets a good example for your children on how to make a healthy adjustment to this major change.

It’s very important not to lean on your children for support. Older children and those who are eager to please may try to make you feel better by offering a shoulder to cry on. No matter how tempting that is, it’s best not to let them be the provider of your emotional support.

Let them know how touched you are by their caring nature and kindness, but vent to a friend or therapist.

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