Children of divorce have a lot to deal with during and after the process.
The loss they feel of what used to be is immense and no matter how amicable the divorce process is and beyond, the act of separation itself will always be a watershed moment in your child’s life.
Some little ones will be confused about what it going on. They may lack the vocabulary to express how they feel or think which may in turn affect or increase changes in behaviour such as temper tantrums, clinginess, more need for parental care, regression e.g. bedwetting and the inability to perform activities they previously could.
It’s important to note that even adolescents and teenagers experience confusion and may result in a rush to independence, greater self-sufficiency, a need to spend more time with friends and others outside the family.
The response here may be one of anger, aggression and rebellion. He may want to get back at his parents for breaking up his life.
Helping children cope with divorce is a topic I have been asked about often so I thought a post would be a good way to talk about it and hopefully reach and help support more people.
Here are my tips.
- Keep predictable schedules, as this helps create a sense of security for your child. Just as it’s important for you to know what is happening in your own life from one day to the next, so it is for your child.
- During transitions and exchanges, it helps if the parent picking up is on time and that the other parent has the child all ready to go, especially if there is a high chance that you will end up in an argument. Avoid preparing a whole suitcase for your children. They don’t need to feel like they are living off a bag for the rest of their childhood. Arrange to have clothes and similar toys in both households to avoid the packing and unpacking on either end.
Avoid any arguments during exchanges and transitions, as this will only create a sense of anxiety in your child, especially if this often happens. Try to imagine the amount of anxiety your child has to endure, knowing that you both will be coming face to face soon with a high chance of an argument. Understand that it also takes a while for your child’s anxiety levels to come down again once they have been aroused. Make transitions as quick and as smooth as possible.
- Despite how you feel about the other parent, do help your child create and nurture a relationship with her other parent. For instance, help her choose a gift for Fathers’ Day or Mothers’ Day as well as birthdays, and remind them to call daddy/Mummy. Avoid, at all costs, speaking disparagingly about the other parent to the child or within ear shot.
- Allow your child to carry something of their choice from one home to another, e.g. a favourite toy, book or photos. This is very normal, and creates a sense of continuation for them. One divorced couple, although not generally on good terms, had a routine of starting to read a story in one home and finishing it in the other to provide continuity and ease in transition.
- Avoid involving your child in adult matters. These may include detailed reasons for why the divorce happened, financial problems and how Mummy cheated on Daddy with “Uncle Peter” last summer or vice versa with “Auntie Sophie”.
- As far as possible, do try to create similar routines in both homes for such daily and routine activities as mealtimes, bedtimes and homework times. Again creates a sense of security for you child which is vital for their general wellbeing.
- Just as you help maintain contact with your child’s other parent, remember she also has relationships with members of her extended family, such as grandparents, cousins and step-parents, so do help support these relationships too so that your child doesn’t suffer any unnecessary relationship losses.
- To be fair to the other parent and to your child, do give as much notice as possible to the other parent about special occasions or necessary changes to the schedule. This may also help eliminate any chance of conflict.
- I know this isn’t always easy, but do try to keep communications with your ex-partner as civil and respectful as possible. If this is not possible, do use other means of communicating so that your child is not exposed to any conflict between the two of you. One lady I know asked a friend of hers to read all emails from her ex-partner. This friend would then relate back what the email said, omitting anything rude or inflammatory, that would upset her friend.
If you’re struggling with creating a co-parenting plan with your ex, do contact me and let’s see how I can help – firstname.lastname@example.org