- Give your children a lot of opportunities to speak about their feelings and thoughts about the divorce. Ask open questions such as: “Tell me more about…” “How does that make you feel?” Be patient and open to what they have to say and respect their privacy if they choose not to share.
- Tell them that feelings, such as sadness, anger, shame, and guilt, are normal feelings, which a lot of children of divorced parents feel. It is normal if they feel that way. Talking about those feelings with a friend or another adult can help cope with these feelings.
- Make sure your children know the divorce is not their fault, and it has nothing to do with their actions or behavior.
- After the divorce, keep to your rules at home. Try to get the other parent’s cooperation with this, so the children will have their regular routine and will feel a sense of consistency between both parents. Keeping an everyday routine and having established rules of the home helps children feel safe. If the other parent has very different rules in his or her house, keep strictly to You can talk with the children about the fact that every house has its own rules. The secret here is being consistent and assertive. Children can adjust to having different rules in different houses.
- There is no need to compensate the children with material gifts. What your children really need is attention!
Spend time with your children, be present with them in your body and mind. Listen to them, play with them, and hang out with them. That is what you need, and that kind pf parenting is priceless.
- If you have divorced and your child lives a long way from you, keep in touch as much as you can. Use technology to your advantage. Make contact through e-mails, phones, texting, video calls, and any other media available. Even if your child never initiates the contact, keep making contact yourself.
- Divorce is a time of serious changes for the whole family. Changes are difficult for children, so try to restrict them as much as possible. If possible, keep the children in the same neighborhood they are used to. As much as you can, try keeping them in the same school. If you still have to move, help keeping them in touch with their friends and family.
- Be neutral! Never pick a side against their other parent. Even if your children complain about their other parent, don’t talk dirty about your former spouse. Tell them how important it is to be in a good relationship with their father or mother, even if, sometimes, there are differences between them.
- And last, but not least, take care of yourself! Build a support system for yourself, with people who are not judgmental, who you can call or meet with and share your feelings. Find people to help you out when you need it, and don’t be shy of asking for help. You need it right now. Do things that bring up your energy, such as a nice hobby or going out for a fun evening.
A distraught mother told me of her concerns about her daughter. She and her ex-husband divorced six months ago. She wished her 7-year-old daughter had shared more of her feelings about the recent divorce.
When the parents first told their daughter about the divorce, she cried and talked about her feelings. But as the days went by, the little girl became quiet and stopped sharing her thoughts and feelings
about these changes in her life.
Parents should raise topics related to divorce from time to time. For example, if you are talking about the next visit of your child to her other parent or about visiting on the next holiday, this is an opportunity to raise the topic of their feelings about the divorce in general, and about the visiting arrangements, in particular.
Reading a children’s book about divorce is one way to raise the subject. Then by talking about the child in the book, and about his feelings and thoughts about the divorce you can start talking with your own child about his or her feelings and thoughts.
Talking about someone else’s divorce – such as another child in school or a fictional character from a TV series or movie – is also a good opener for a conversation about this sensitive topic.
You can also, gently, talk about your own feelings. But, be careful with this advice. You don’t want your child feeling sorry for you or feeling he has to protect your feelings. A good opening can be: “I feel so exhausted from all the changes around here… What do you think? Do you feel the same?” And be open to any answer your child may relay.
The most important thing when talking about feelings is being non-judgmental about the other’s feelings. Let your children talk freely. Respect their need for privacy – even if they decide not to share their feelings with you, respect their decision. Maybe it’s not the right time; maybe they feel too much in conflict between you and the other parent, or maybe they prefer not to share. Give an open invitation with no due date to speak in the future, whenever that may be.