Relationship breakdowns are often one of the most difficult issues we face in life and are invariably linked with a hotbed of emotions. Children can and do survive divorce intact, the following points are a few indicators on guiding them through this as gently as possible.
Whatever the relationship is like between parents however, it’s important to remember that children love their parents regardless and it can be harmful for them to be drawn into any arguments between parents, or endless criticism of one by the other. Unless there is risk involved, it’s increasingly being recognised that it’s in the child’s best interest to be able to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents wherever possible.
- Make sure your child is never in doubt how much you love them throughout the course of the separation and afterwards.
- Reassure your child time and time again it’s not their fault – young brains will often try and rationalise the situation by equating their own behaviour to the breakdown of their parents’ relationship.
- Spend time with your child. They need you now more than ever as they adjust.
- Answer their questions gently. While they don’t need to know any bitter nitty-gritty, they will be looking for answers as to why their world has changed. Answer truthfully and simply, but without judgement or criticism.
- Show restraint – be respectful of your spouse when giving reasons (even though it may be the last thing you feel like doing).
- Communicate directly with the other parent – don’t use your child as a messenger
- Establish routines. Routines provide comfort – kids feel safer and more secure when they know what to expect. Look to establish new routines as soon as possible so the child (and parents) can adapt to the new situation.
- Maintain any rules so children know the boundaries still exist. Resist any temptation to spoil your child throughout the separation, especially if this is in some way to outdo the other parent. Children need love and attention at this time rather than material goods and anarchy.
- Know when to seek help. It’s normal for a child to be angry, sad or anxious throughout separation, if this becomes a long term issue do consider counselling to help them through this.
- Criticise your child’s other parent in front of them. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Children love their parents regardless of failings, and any criticism of these, whether justified or not, can be hurtful to hear. This applies to friends and family too, who may be very keen on expressing their own opinions. Let your child make up their own minds.
- (ever ever) Use your child as a pawn, preventing them seeing the other parent because of any fall outs you’ve had. This is grossly unfair for the child and other parent and likely to come back and bite you on the bum once the child is older.
- Expect your child to take sides – they should never be put in that position.
- Argue in front of your child, whether in face or on the phone.
- Feel jealous if your child is having fun with the other parent – this isn’t a competition! Your child loves you both uniquely and unconditionally, it’s best for them if they can enjoy time with both of you.
- Never use your child as a counsellor – they’re not mature enough to understand the issues and your feelings towards the situation are likely to upset them. Confide in friends or family instead.