When it comes to children and divorce, kids have a tendency to clam up. My friend’s son started failing in school during her divorce. He hid the fact that he was struggling in school out of fear of increasing the conflict in his family and making the problems worse.
If you haven’t learned by now, then it is time you know, the healthy way to deal with stress is to communicate about the issues that are causing the stress. This is true regardless of what age a person is. Your child may be feeling anger, fear or sadness, and unsafe when it comes to expressing those feelings.
As a parent, you are obligated to help your children feel safe expressing unpleasant feelings. Answering questions or addressing concerns your children have will not be easy but, to ignore the situation sets your children up for long-term negative consequences related to your divorce.
1. Be Willing to Talk:
Don’t wait for your children to come to you with their concerns. If you are willing to open up to them about your concerns, you will be showing them that divorce is a safe subject to talk about.
If you are feeling sad, choose an age-appropriate way to express your sadness over the situation with the children. For instance, with a 7-year-old you might say, “I’m sad about the divorce but I know everything will be OK, how are you feeling?” This opens up the opportunity for your children to express negative emotions while at the same time reassures them all will be well.
Showing your children that negative emotions are normal and giving them the knowledge that you will always be there to talk about it can relieve a huge burden from them. Also, you will be teaching your children a valuable lesson. People who cope well with crisis and stress are the ones who talk about what they are experiencing. So, teach your children well when it comes to not feeling the need to stuff their feelings.
2. Don’t Forget to Listen:
We parents have a tendency to be poor listeners. Our natural inclination is to fix our children’s problems. We ease our children’s unpleasant feelings with short term solutions. My father thought that buying me a new dress or forking over money for spending was the answer to all my problems.
His solution did help in the short-term but it taught me nothing about processing and working through stressful situations in the long-term. What I wanted as a child is the same thing your children want. I needed someone to listen to what I had to say and to validate my feelings.
You should allow your children to talk about their feelings regardless of how unpleasant it is for you to hear. Let them vent, cry, and be angry. Don’t analyze them, advise them, or become angry with them. Let your children get it all out and then express your concern by saying something like: “I’m glad you felt safe talking to me,” or “Yes this is a sad time but we will work through it together,” or “I understand and want you to know I will always love you and be here for you.”
The key to listing is to be in receptor mode, not fix it mode. Your children will be giving you information, it is your job to receive and help them process their feelings based on what you receive. If you don’t put aside your need to fix the problem for them you can’t properly receive their information.
3. Just Because They Act Happy Doesn’t Mean They Are Happy:
My seven-year-old was devastated by his parent’s divorce. I saw the negative effects of our divorce, the crying, weight loss, and physical illness caused by stuffing his emotions. Every other weekend he visited his father. When with his father he didn’t feel safe expressing his feelings.
I told my ex, the therapist told my ex, a lot of people told my ex that he needed to talk to his son about the situation. My ex balked and said, “He doesn’t have a problem, when he is with me he is happy and having fun.” My ex interpreted our son’s behavior incorrectly. It was easier for my ex to believe our son was doing well because communicating feelings had always been a huge source of discomfort for my ex.
We have to be careful not to come to the wrong conclusion about our children’s emotional well-being. Doing so can cause us to respond to the situation our children are dealing with in an inappropriate manner. If your children are feeling one way and behaving another, it is your responsibility to make sure they are not holding or stuffing those negative feelings.
Compare notes with the other parent. Find out how the children are behaving when in that parent’s custody. Talk to your children’s teachers and school counselors. And open up a conversation with your children. If you respond appropriately and they need to talk, they will eventually open up to you.
When dealing with children and divorce, the main thing for us, as parents, is to be willing to keep an open line of communication with our children. Being willing to talk, listen, and pay attention to more than behavior can help our children transition through our divorce in a healthy manner.