5 Ways to Support Your Children During Divorce

When divorcing parents fail to address their children’s sorrow and emotional issues, children suffer greatly – often in silence. Here are five ways to provide your children with what they need at this critical time.

By Dr. John T. Chirban
November 28, 2016
Support Your Children During Divorce

Parents can have a powerful and positive impact on their children by being in tune with their interactions during divorce. Here are five basic steps to help your children through this process.

1. Listen, love, and communicate.

Anticipate that divorce will have a significant effect on your children, and engage them to learn what they feel and what they need. Each child processes divorce differently. Take time to attend to and examine your child’s unique response to the divorce, without going into irrelevant detail. Parents have an understandable but un-attuned tendency to share their thoughts about the divorce and use their children as sounding boards. Be attuned to your children’s needs – not just your own – by responding with love.

2. Answer their questions.

The average child will reasonably want to know what divorce means for him or her. Assure your kids that they will be safe, protected, and loved. Be ready to provide details that will assuage anxiety, and respond to your kids’ emotions, questions, and need for clear detail.

3. Self-observe: be aware of your feelings, thoughts, and words.

You will have specific feelings about your divorce and your former spouse that are not appropriate to share with your children. When these feelings are triggered, it’s important to remember that the worst position for your kids is witnessing these fiery interactions and feeling as though they’re in the middle of the two people who created them. To prevent this, discuss facts and refrain from making negative comments about the other parent. Acknowledge your sadness and distress after prioritizing your children’s needs and responding to their feelings and concerns. Ultimately, you need to retain your parenting role.  

4. Seek counseling.

Effective mental health providers can be a blessing in helping you and your children sort out troubling thoughts and emotions. Finding the right clinician, however, can be a challenge. You and your children don’t need a warm body that sits but does not help; rather, you need an attentive caretaker to whom both you and your kids can openly relate. Your children need and deserve quality care, and, in this situation, you have an important role in providing the right guidance to your children in the absence of a suitable therapist. However, both you and your children need your own space to vent and process what’s happening. If these needs are met, there will be fewer scars.

5. Be your children’s compass.

Children always need a compass (values and directions that lead them) and supportive, inviting, and loving guidance. Parents need to provide warm and caring support. Divorce is devastating for children when they feel alone, replaced, or supplanted. They need you more than ever; be there for them, and provide them with solid direction.

Above all else, make an effort to recognize your children’s feelings and confusion. Your presence and attention confirm that you are still there for them, regardless of the familial changes. The most frightening anxiety for kids is that they are being cast out into the world, alone. In your words and through your behavior, assure them that this won’t happen. You know your children’s temperaments and demeanors better than anyone. You will need to keep parenting through the divorce and well afterward – it was your promise to your children when you brought them into this world. This means creating time regularly to talk to them about their concerns, fears, dreams, and wishes. 

I know through my own experience with my children and through my clinical practice that when you meet your children’s needs during divorce, you will secure the foundation for their well-being during this overwhelming time and beyond.

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Collateral DamageExcerpted with permission from Collateral Damage: Guiding and Protecting Your Child Through the Minefield of Divorce (Thomas Nelson, January 2017) by Dr. John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. Since its inception, Dr. Chirban has served on the Advisory Board for the daytime television show Dr. Phil, where he is a frequent guest. Based on research from more than 10,000 surveys from children and parents of divorce, Collateral Damage presents parents with an overview of the impact that divorce has on their children and offers ways to better serve their needs at this critical time. The book is available now for pre-order at www.thomasnelson.com/collateral-damage

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November 28, 2016

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