By Joseph Sacks
Supporting Children Through a Separation Or Divorce: 5 Helpful Tips
1. Avoid Arguing in Front of the Children
During and after the separation, it is crucial to remember this point. Parents’ fighting severely traumatizes children. He fears that if Mommy and Daddy are going to abandon each other, then they will abandon him too. This is called an abandonment annihilation trauma. He further fears that if his parents are going to mistreat each other, they will mistreat him too. If you need to argue, put on the T.V. loudly and go behind closed doors. It’s hard to stick by this rule when passions flare up, but it pays to try your best.
2. Spend Quality and Quantity Time With Your Child
If one or both parents are no longer living with the kids full-time, the children will see their parents less often. Unfortunately, one of the separated parents often sees the children only rarely. This becomes a partial abandonment for the children, on top of a divorce. However, it is a good idea for your and your ex to try to see your children as much as possible, preferably almost every day. If one parent moves out, he or she should live right nearby.
In addition, it is recommended to talk to the children about the separation as much as possible to get their feelings about it out in the open – that is, to help them develop conscious awareness of their emotional life. They need to verbalize their fears, their anger and their frustrations. For example, it is natural for children to be angry at their parents for separating. Don’t be afraid to hear your child express anger to you. Feeling validated and accepted can be healing.. During the pain of a separation, many children fear things are likely to get even worse. Therefore, they need to be reassured that their parents will be supportive and will do all they can to protect them from difficulties.
3. Help Them to Have Fun
Children going through a separation are experiencing reduced happiness because of the stress, loss and uncertain nature of their situation. This may lead to misbehavior, tantrums and school problems. But, when supporting children through a separation or divorce, there are ways to promote their happiness. A divorce or separation is no time for any form of punishment, which will only make things worse! Your children need the opposite: extra affection, attention, toys, games, trips, friends, candy, ice cream etc. to raise their happiness level closer to where it should be. Don’t fear spoiling your child – these things are a need, not a frivolous desire. For more information about how not to spoil your child, click here.
4. Communicate With Your Former Partner
It is absolutely necessary for couples to work together for the best interest of the children. Separated couples are no different. A formal business relationship must be maintained, if possible, to manage the children’s affairs. Parents need to be on the same page, and those who don’t talk will unfortunately be handicapped in their ability to parent. Mommy needs to know what’s going on in Daddy’s house and vice versa. If you can’t communicate peaceably, use go-betweens – but not the children themselves - but no matter how you do it, you must communicate!
5. Get Therapy For Yourself
It goes without saying that the children will need psychotherapy to process and grieve for their loss, as well as to gain conscious awareness of their feelings. It may sound incredible, but children often blame themselves for their parents separation, “If I was a better child, they wouldn’t have separated.” They need to correct these thoughts and work through those feelings. But, parents going through a separation are suffering intensely too. The loss of your partner means that you also have emotional needs going unmet, which can make it much more difficult to fulfill your children’s emotional needs.
However, supporting children through a separation or divorce is essential.
Therefore, as a parent, you need to take care of yourself through reaching out toward professional psychotherapy, friends and family members. See my article on the steps an adult needs to take in therapy, here.
Please bear in mind that the above principles represent a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfill them perfectly. Therefore, have patience with yourself and try to implement the new ideas gradually.
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If you are experiencing challenges supporting children through a separation or divorce, and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan,
you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!