Helping your children survive a divorce

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Divorce is often an ugly, messy affair that leaves you struggling with the emotion and confusion that comes with ending a marriage. Add children to that equation and the stress is tripled.

It may be tempting to guilt yourself into spoiling the little ones to ease their pain of losing a parent, or perhaps the loss you feel will drown out everything else, such as the needs of your children. Both are detrimental paths to walk down. So how do you help your kids survive a divorce? Here are a few tips.

Before the divorce
How do you explain that you’re getting a divorce, and what it means for your kids? It depends first on how much your children understand. For preschoolers and kindergarteners, typically, their understanding of complex concepts like divorce are limited or non-existent, so just stick to communicating basic facts.

This means letting them know what’s going to happen without going into details. You can attempt the next step for older kids, making sure to help them process and express their feelings about the split, and explain that they didn’t cause it. You should avoid blaming the other party for causing the divorce and opt for a more amicable explanation. It’s best to break the news together, and do it over a period of time, instead of overwhelming them& in one sitting.

During the divorce
For a child, one of the toughest and most confusing parts of a divorce is the child custody process. It may involve talking to certain officials about their relationship with both parents and who they’d prefer to live with. Prepare your children for this procedure by helping them anticipate the types of questions they’ll be asked, and encouraging them to be honest. Don’t manipulate them into saying things they don’t mean.

Keep it as simple as possible, talking only about concrete certainties, instead of“possible outcomes” that may turn into information overload. While shared custody is usually the best scenario, it’s okay to decide on sole custody, as long as it’s in the best interest of the child. Again, young children may not be able to understand the logic behind such a complex decision, so just spare them the details for the time being.

After the divorce
The key to helping your children cope with such a monumental event is to ensure that routines and interactions with both parents don’t change too much. If one parent always brings the kids to the park on Wednesdays, make sure it continues. Minimise the sudden or total disappearance of a person the children rely on on a day-to-day basis.

Though this may seem like an impossible task, try to work towards being in the same room with each other without any hostility, and spend time together as a family. It’ll certainly be a happy ending for the kids. If this isn’t a realistic goal, especially in the case of sole custody, allow your children to air their grievances, listen to them, and respond with love and empathy. It helps to direct their energy into building other social relationships, be it making new friends at the playground or spending more time with their grandparents.

Through the entire ordeal, be civil with each other in front of the children, and speak respectfully about the other party in private as well. This sets a healthy example for handling conflicts, and reduces the hurt your children feel. If things still don’t go the way you’d hoped, take heart that extensive studies show that 80 per cent of children learn to adapt with no prolonged negative effects on their studies or mental well-being. So even though some form of grief is inescapable, your children will most likely be okay at the end of the day.

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