Dr Isabelle Hung explains how to minimise the effects of divorce on children
Reassuringly, most parents’ priority in divorce is their children. In my experience of counselling, parents want their children to transition through a divorce as peacefully as possible, and want to understand how to maintain a secure and healthy environment.
It’s certainly necessary to put some thought into how to achieve this as divorce is, undoubtedly, a significant event in a child’s life. Your children have often grown up believing that they’re going to be with their parents forever, people who they love very much. Of course it’s going to be difficult to lose that structure.
The good news is that divorce doesn’t need to have long-term effects on children if the transition is well managed. Fundamental to your children’s progress is that parents work as a team. Even if communication is difficult between adults, putting your children first makes you a team.
3 key principles to minimize the impact of divorce:
1. Remind your children that they are loved.
Tell them that they are loved and make sure that you take time to be with your children, appreciating what they are doing, and cherishing your time together.
2. Make your children feel safe through maintaining their sense of stability
Children feel safe when there is a predictable environment and they feel loved and cared for. To help your children feel safe, show them that you are coping with the situation. Try to avoid big emotional breakdowns and tears in front of your children, wherever possible. If these can’t be avoided (and of course – go easy on yourself as you are going through a difficult time too), it is best to talk to your children about what is going on, and to remind them that they are safe.
Another way to show you are coping is to keep a routine. So, if you can – get up and go to work. Do things on time like you would have done previously.
Stability is also important to help minimise the effects of divorce on your children. When so much is changing because of your separation, try to keep as many other things as possible constant. For example, if you can afford to, stay in the same flat or house, or at least in the same area. Try to keep a routine, keep your children in the same school, if possible. And, if you can continue to see the same people and do the same activities, this will help to maintain your child’s sense of stability.
3. Don’t blame or criticise the other parent in front of your children.
It puts children in an awkward position and it’s one of the most difficult things for children to manage. Keeping in mind these three key principles should help your child to navigate this turbulent time as smoothly as possible. Do expect your children to be upset and to demonstrate this through their behaviour. Your child may seem more sullen than usual, a bit more angry or upset – and this behaviour is perfectly normal.
Even when your children test you – and they will test your patience – keep hold of the 3 principles:
- Making them feel loved
- Maintaining stability wherever possible
- Not putting them in the middle of their parents
Here are some books for some extra advice:
Help Your Children Cope with your Divorce: A Relate Guide by Paula Hall
When Parents Part: How Mothers and Fathers Can Help Their Children Deal with Separation and Divorce by Penelope Leach
Good luck – and please do let us know your advice for supporting your children on our forum to support other parents.