Helping children deal with their emotions
Aside from the legalities, logistics and practicalities of child arrangements and schedules to be agreed, one of the key concerns of parents going through a separation/divorce, is how to limit the potential emotional impact on their children.
The breakdown of a marriage or a relationship can be an extremely emotional time for all members of the family, and particularly for children who might find the early stages of the transition confusing and possibly painful. Managing the circumstances well may be challenging, however it is a worthwhile exercise in securing the shorter and longer term wellbeing of the children.
Resolution, an organisation of family lawyers committed to a co-operative approach to family law, provides a wealth of resources on how best to manage your separation/divorce whilst placing the children’s needs first http://www.resolution.org.uk/supportingchildren/ . Some key points on helping children deal with their emotions are summarised below:
Each child may react differently to their parents separating, from relief if there have been ongoing arguments in the home, to anger and hurt if they’d rather you stay together. Whatever the reaction it is important for children (and you) to know their emotional reactions are normal.
It is also important to provide them with love and understanding as well as discipline. If you are having problems with how your children are handling their feelings, you could try the following:
- Minimise conflict at an early stage. Ensure you and your partner explore the possibility of , and where possible, agree and follow a clear schedule of how and in what terms you each spend time with the children. Getting legal advice and attending mediation early on will assist in guiding you and your partner towards appropriate, clear and easy to manage child arrangements.
- Children may think they have the ability to bring you back together or have a responsibility to do so, particularly if they are aware of arguments involving them. It is therefore extremely important for your children to know that what has happened is not their fault, and they may need to be reminded of this often. It is also important they know it is not their responsibility to change or fix the situation. Minimising conflict and arguments (especially around them) will reduce the chances of children taking on responsibility themselves to resolve issues between their parents.
- Maintain open channels of communication with them. Schedule a time to talk to your child about the situation. It is important they know you understand this is a difficult time for them and that you will provide them with an opportunity to share how they feel.
- Help your children to write down some healthy, appropriate ways they can express their feelings. Good examples are exercising, keeping a journal or diary, or talking to someone they (and you) trust.
- Maintain discipline and boundaries. Some parents make the mistake of trying to indulge their children with presents or treats as a way of taking their mind off the sadness/anger, particularly if their feelings manifest in destructive behaviors. Usually, this is not a positive long term strategy as it serves as a distraction technique, rather than addressing the core of the child’s discontent.
- Speak to the school and let them know what is going on at home. They may be able to offer support or counselling to your child, if appropriate and necessary.
- If you find that the sadness is persistent or becomes worse in your child, it could be a sign of depression and you should seek professional help by consulting your GP.
- Try to keep life consistent for your children. Maintain a regular daily routine and activities to keep them feeling safe and secure within a predictable environment. Maintaining a sense of normality during this transitional time may be reassuring.
- Make sure the children are getting plenty of rest, eating regularly, exercising and have access to supportive family and friends.
If you are going through a divorce/separation and are keen to explore amicable means of agreeing a parenting plan or child arrangements with your ex-partner please contact us for a confidential discussion.