“Fifty percent of all the children born to married parents today will experience the divorce of their parents before they are 18 years old.” (Fagan, Fitzgerald, Rector, -The Effects of Divorce on America-). If divorce or separation hasn’t touched you as a child, it probably has touched you as a parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt or in a relationship.
Adults often ask: How can a new beginning in family transitions happen? Will we ever get there? Children may not ask directly, but they are wondering too.
Children experience divorce very differently than adults. They haven’t asked to be in this family transition. The change is often rapid, unexpected and feels unpredictable. They have little control of what happens and for many, find it hard to understand. Navigating multiple homes, parental roles, changing schools, extended family relationships, holidays and birthdays, can all raise questions for children in transition. Adults can help ease this time of flux.
Families commonly view divorce transitions in a negative way, as a loss. But change can also bring new opportunities. Taking the time to identify positive changes may help children feel more encouraged about the transition. Revisit your child’s dreams, reinforcing the idea of continued hope in moving forward. Help them explore:
- What has stayed the same in their life?
- What has been gained in their life?
- What do they look forward to?
- Family Structure
- How is “family” now defined? Adults may not even be so sure. Talk to children about living arrangements. Time with Mom. Time with Dad. Children aren’t visiting, they are spending time.
- What can children expect in relationships and extended family?
Children wonder but may not voice it. “When do I get to visit Uncle Jack?”
- Family Traditions
- Holidays and special celebrations.
What traditions will remain? What traditions will be new?
“Can I stay at Grandma Kate’s house at Christmas?”
- Daily routines and rituals give children comfort and security even though these may go unnoticed by adults.
Anger is a normal emotion. Adults often see the child’s anger as a behavior only, but children feel it as grief, hurt and pain. We don’t want our children to feel hurt but family changes can hurt. We can’t always prevent our children from hurting, but there are things we can do to stand beside them when they do.
- Listen! Listen Listen!
- Listen beyond the words. Listen for the feelings and messages.
- Use empathy to let children know they are sincerely heard and understood.
- Divorce is loss and grief for children. It comes in stages and waves. Children move through it easier with support and understanding.
- Set and enforce limits. Limits let children know you love them and will work to keep them safe.
Let Kids be Kids
- Reassure your child often that they are loved and that hasn’t and won’t change.
- Reassure them divorce was not their fault. It is an adult decision.
- Allow your children to ask questions, filling in with information that they can understand, but be careful not to give an information overload. Say just enough to answer their question. If they want to know more, they will ask.
- Keep adult issues between adults.
- Speak respectfully of the other parent.
- Avoid putting your child in a position in choosing loyalty of one parent over the other.
- Be emotionally present for your child. TIME=LOVE
Learn more about promoting new beginnings in your family and keeping children out of the conflict in these sessions. Call West Dakota Parent & Family Resource Center at 701-456-0007 or toll free 1-877-264-1142.
Upcoming Sessions: Cooperative Parenting and Divorce and/or Parents Forever