Talking with your children about divorce
Talking with your children about divorce can be tricky. After all, as your children grow up, being able to have any meaningful conversation with them can be a challenge when your daughter is going through yet another love/hate SnapChat break up with her BFF, she hates you and wants to ‘die’ because “you’re so embarrassing”. Then there’s your son and now you totally get the Kevin and Perry sketch from the Fast Show! Family life is hard enough, so throw separation or divorce into the mix and it can even more difficult.
Children and teens often don’t have the emotional maturity or the vocabulary to be able to express their feelings. Sometimes this is through fear or anxiety that you will be angry with them, or upset. Children and teens can bury their feelings that would have been verbalized and instead, express them in other ways like acting out – when they suddenly become moody, rude, aggressive or disrespectful. They may be disruptive in school, play truant, or once diligent students, they fall behind. Worse still, they may turn their anger, frustration and confusion inwards on themselves and begin self-harming or develop eating disorders.
This doesn’t mean that you should stay in a relationship that just isn’t working for you. If the relationship isn’t working for you, it certainly won’t be working for your children or teens either. They may already thoroughly fed up with the both of you – divorce may in some ways be a relief for them. It doesn’t mean that they’ll cope with the separation however. It’s important that you talk to your children and teens throughout the separation, divorce and onwards in an age and emotional maturity dependant way.
Helping your children
Sometimes, separation and divorce is good for all family members, but as the adult, it’s your job to keep being the adult, and be the parent that your children need. First and foremost, get support for yourself. This may sound counter-intuitive but you really will be the captain in charge of the ship here and if you don’t know how to sail it, you’ll all sink without trace. Positive and productive communication between you and your children is crucial in helping your children navigate through the emotional time they face. So, how do you help your children and talking with them about divorce? Perhaps these suggestions seem blindingly obvious, but when you are struggling to manage your own emotions and daily responsibilities, they can be easy to forget.
Looking through the eyes of a child
Firstly, make time to see the world through your children’s eyes. Understanding their perceptions will you to empathetically address their anger, frustrations and fears however unfounded they may be in reality – to your children, they are real.
Be emotionally available when your child comes to you to talk or ask questions. That means turning off the TV, putting down the newspaper, not answering the phone and giving them eye-contact and a welcoming smile. Sometimes attempting to talk to you is the result of considerable thought and risk on their part. Encourage these conversations when they happen. Sit, kneel or in other ways get down closer to your child’s level and create a safe space for them when you talk. Allow them to share openly and without censorship and resist the urge to jump in and talk over them. Ensure that you are in a good state to talk to them and if not, tell them when will be a good time and place.
Only promise confidentiality when it can be guaranteed
Let your children know they are safe in confiding in you, but avoid making promises that you cannot keep if keeping these promises would be unsafe for them. This is an important basis for trust. Of course, if you need to breach their confidence to keep them safe, you must do it.
Remain calm whatever you hear
Remain calm and patient. Check your understanding of what your children are saying. Don’t react or respond until you get the full message. Sometimes it takes some time for your child to summon the courage to say what they want to say, or they may struggle to express themselves or find the right vocabulary. They may become angry and frustrated with themselves and their inability to say how they feel but stick with them and don’t be tempted to speak for them. If what you hear shocks you – breathe and encourage your child to keep sharing. Thank them for being brave in talking to you. If you are criticised, accept responsibility for your child’s perception of your ‘wrong doing‘ – do not justify, merely apologise for the way that action mae them feel. Ask them what they would like you to do in future (if appropriate).
When possible work together to find solutions
If your child is old enough, work together on a solution that they can feel works for them in the confines of the legal frame work you are working with, their age, needs and emotional maturity. Ensure that your children know that they can talk with you at any time and, if appropriate, it’s ok for them to choose to speak with someone else instead. If communicating in this way with your children is new to you, remember that children are very adaptable. By being the captain of your own ship, you lead the way to your children becoming accomplished communicators as they grow. Expressing thoughts, feelings, needs, creating and maintaining boundaries means that they are more likely to create healthy adult relationships with romantic partners, co-workers, friends and their own children. It starts with you. Ready?
If you need support in your separation and divorce, contact Crombie Wilkinson Your Family First on 01904 624185