Change is difficult at the best of times, but the changes a family goes through when there’s a divorce or separation is on a whole other level.
Not only are you dealing with your own feelings, but you also worry how your children will react and cope with the situation.
Whether the relationship ended on good or bad terms, kids will be experiencing some big emotions, sometimes for the first time. There’s the confusion of the separation itself, the guilt of living with one parent instead of another and fear at leaving their friends behind if they have to change schools.
That’s a lot for kids, and adults to process, but there are ways to help make things a little less daunting, no matter the stage you’re at.
At this stage, you and your partner have decided to separate and it’s time to tell your child. Emotions will be high for everyone so there are some points to consider when it’s time to break the news.
• Explain what’s happening. Being open about what’s happening and what’s likely to change can help avoid too many nasty surprises. Make sure to keep things appropriate for your child’s age and let them know you’re there to answer any questions they have.
• It’s not their fault. Kids often feel that it’s their fault if something goes wrong. Reassure your child that it’s absolutely not their fault and it’s something you and your partner have decided to do.
• Feelings are okay! Both you and your child will be feeling a lot of emotions, and that’s ok. Encourage them to talk about how their feelings and help them understand that emotions play an important role in our lives.
• Try not to talk badly about the other parent in front of your child. This can be incredibly hard depending on the way your partner treated you, but saying terrible thigs about them in front of your child will only add to their distress. These comments are best left to conversations with other adults.
At this point the kids know what’s going on and are learning to adjust to changes.
• Keep it routine. Keeping mealtimes, morning and afternoon routines predictable can help kids adjust better to other changes. Routine brings a sense of stability in an otherwise tumultuous time.
• Encourage communication. Creating an environment where kids feel like they can ask questions and express their emotions is essential. Actively listening to their concerns and asking them how they feel is a good start in creating this open, honest environment.
• Get kids involved. With a separation, so much is out of your child’s control. Getting them involved in choosing what they have for meals, what activities you do on the weekend or what movie to watch is a great way to give kids a little bit of control and feel less helpless about the situation.
By this time, you’ve been separated for a while and you and your child are mostly adjusted to your new normal.
• Watch for signs. Regularly check in with your child and watch out for signs they might not be coping. Sleep disturbances, not wanting to socialise and poor school performance are just some clues that your child might need a bit of extra help.
• Reach out. If your child needs a bit of extra help to work through their feelings, don’t hesitate to reach out to a GP, child psychologist, teacher or school counsellor for help. Addressing any issues as soon as possible can help your child get back to being their happy regular self sooner.
Don’t forget yourself
Through all the emotional, financial and mental strain of a separation, plus making sure your child is ok, It’s vital that you take the time to check in with yourself too.
If you’re struggling, reach out to a friend, loved one or professional to help you work through these changes.
By checking in, keeping a routine and reaching out for help when needed, both you and your child can come through the rocky waters of separation stronger than ever.