Talking to your children about divorce and helping them to cope

Divorce hits children the hardest. 

I’ll say that again – Divorce (or parents separating) will hit children the hardest. It doesn’t matter what age they are, whether a toddler, a child, a teen or a young adult – generally their first instinct is to blame themselves. However, you can do a lot to help your child cope with this very difficult situation. The priority for any couple who are contemplating a divorce/separation is to consider how, when and what to tell your children. Remember that how you tell them in that first instance will set the tone for how they respond.

All children will be anxious and worried no matter how cool and calm they may appear! Telling them together is the best thing to do but of course this isn’t always possible. But….whatever you do or say, do make sure that you discuss what you want to say to them beforehand so that you and your partner are singing off the same hymn sheet. The last thing you want is your children hearing two different versions of events otherwise you will very soon lose their trust. The best thing to say is something like “You probably are aware that mummy and daddy haven’t been getting a long for quite some time, and even though we have tried to make things better for both of us and the whole family, we are still not happy with each other. We’ve decided that we are not going to live together anymore, and we are going to get a divorce.”

Children will blame themselves and feel very guilty

Children will have a lot of questions and the main thing they are going to want to know is “does mummy and daddy still love me?” or “Have I done something to make you and daddy not happy?” and you MUST ensure that the child knows that they have done absolutely nothing wrong and that it is BECAUSE you love the children so much that you are separating. They will want to know who they are going to live with, where they are going to school, and when they will see each of you. If you already know the answers to their questions, do be honest with them and if you don’t, then make sure you assure them that you will tell them as soon as it has all been sorted out.  

Here are some tips that you can use to help you help your child cope with the divorce.

  1. Make sure that once you have told them you are getting a divorce, they know that they can ask you any questions at any time. Let them see that you don’t mind talking about it and then they won’t be worried to approach you. Don’t act as though life is normal – it’s not. And it won’t be for quite some time.
  1. Make sure that the children know that it’s not THEIR fault. They won’t know the reason for the divorce, so they are likely to blame themselves. They may even try to get you both back together again so make sure they do understand that it is a final decision. Please don’t use parent alienation to get one over your partner or to turn the children against them, this is the worst thing a parent can do, and the court will take it extremely seriously.
  1. Be prepared that your children may show signs of anger, hurt, sadness, anxiety, fear and disappointment. This is normal. Listen to them and know that it is natural for them to feel this way. Allow them to cry, scream, shout and lash out if necessary. Make sure you are always there to listen to their concerns and fears.
  1. Let them know that you both love them very, very much. Give your children lots of love and affection because during this time they will need al the tender loving care that you can muster up to give them.
  1. Keep routines the same as far as possible. Mealtimes, bedtimes, and having friends over (when allowed after lockdown) should all be kept the same. Children feel safe and secure in an environment with a good steady routine.
  1. Ensure that the visitation details are explained to your children – do make sure they understand. 
  1. Explain that all the children will get special time with both mummy and daddy and that you both still love them unconditionally no matter what happens.
  1. Avoid being negative about your ex in front of the children. I know how hard it is – but I can remember my son saying to me once years after our divorce “Mum, I will always respect you and dad for the way you handled the divorce – neither of you said bad things about the other one, and it made it so much easier for me!”
  1. When making arrangements for special occasions like birthdays or holidays, be considerate and fair.
  1. Don’t – and this is a big DON’T…….ever ask your child to deliver a message to your ex. Tell them yourself or if that’s not possible – write them an e mail!

If you feel that your child needs some help – get them some help. One of the mums whose little boy Nathan (7) I did some therapy sessions with last year says:

“I thought my kids were coping really well with the divorce but a few months after the split, Nathan started to seem a bit anxious. He couldn’t get to sleep at night and then he would wake up at 4 in the morning having had a bad dream. A friend of mine suggested I take him to see Elaine at Focus hypnotherapy as she treats young children who are going through their parent’s divorce and various other issues. She was great – she just “got” Nathan straight away and he absolutely loved her. We did the sessions over zoom and I could hear him giggling away. I noticed a big difference even after the first session and within a few weeks, he was back to sleeping properly and back to his happy little self. He opened up to Elaine and told her several things that he was very worried about and she was able to put his mind at rest and she taught him some little techniques he could use when he felt a bit upset or anxious so that he could manage his own emotions. If you are going through a divorce, I would recommend that you get some sessions with Elaine for your kids – it will really help them process things much more easily. Elaine is also a consultant therapist to two very big family law firms where she sees children as a matter of course when the parents are divorcing.”

Janine Taylor- Reynolds

If you feel you need help for yourself or your children do contact me:

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