Ten Tips for Supporting Children Through Divorce
Divorce or separation, no matter how essential, can be profoundly challenging for all family members involved – and few feel the impact so significantly as children.
The team at Elaine Parkes Solicitors deals with all manner of separations and divorces, at every stage of the amiability spectrum.
We appreciate that every parent wants to ensure their children come out of the situation feeling safe, grounded, and confident that they know what the future holds.
While each family is unique, and every divorce will be a different experience, there are several things you can do to make sure your children know that they remain a top priority for both parents.
It’s also vital to remember that you are far from alone – and there are lots of resources and support groups out there who can provide valuable advice to assist your family throughout the divorce process.
- Consider Whether Children are Exposed to Divorce Conflict
In some cases, couples agree that they wish to divorce, and everybody remains on good terms.
However, it is extremely rare to have no animosity, particularly where financial settlements, child support payments, and dissemination of assets and custody are concerned.
The key here is to ensure that children are never exposed to contentious conversations, conflict, or arguments.
By limiting negotiations to an official setting, you both safeguard your children from unnecessary anxiety and can also maintain a friendlier relationship with your ex-spouse by protecting your homes as places of calm.
- Make Space to Discuss Your Children’s Feelings About the Divorce
No matter what emotions you might be experiencing your children will doubtless have their own. It is normal to feel sad, angry or upset – and these might be emotions your children have too and need to be able to sound out.
Children involved in a divorce can feel loss, worry, stress and confusion, and it is essential to let them share those feelings, and know that both parents understand how they feel.
By knowing what your child thinks, you are in a better position to co-parent as a united front, no matter what the situation in your relationship might be.
- Maintain Communication with Both Parents
One of the most common concerns of children is that they will lose something following a divorce – usually not seeing one parent, or living primarily with one person and not having as regular contact with the other.
Even if you and your ex-spouse are in agreement about where the best place is for your children to live, and you are satisfied that the decision is best for everyone, that does not mitigate worries that your child might be harbouring – and even trying to conceal for fear of upsetting their parents at a vulnerable time.
Try to do everything possible to keep up contact with both parents, and ensure your children know how and when they can speak to their Mum or Dad.
- Keep a Reliable, Consistent Routine
As a parent, you know that children are resilient and adaptable. If they know what is happening, when and how, they keep control of their understanding of the situation, which can alleviate a great deal of stress.
Be predictable, and agree to a routine that your children can become familiar with.
If they enjoy a regular weekly activity or visit their grandparents for Sunday lunch, for example, try to keep that up so that while some significant changes might happen in their lives, there are still other things that stay consistent.
- Expect Challenging Behaviour, and Have a Plan for How to Deal with It
Particularly if you are sharing custody, or have a co-parenting agreement in place, you need to make sure you and your ex-spouse are on the same page.
It is perfectly normal for children to act out during a divorce, with emotions running high.
There is every chance that a child will feel angry or perhaps act out of character to get attention if they feel insecure.
For both parents, agree on what your strategy will be.
Angry children need love, reassurance, and to feel safe, so make sure that they know that it is ok to cry or feel upset. Decide how you will manage bad behaviour so that your children still see both parents as a unit, even when they are living apart.
- Don’t Lose Touch With Other Family Members After Divorce
Spending time with your in-laws during and after divorce proceedings might not sound appealing. However, from a child’s perspective, remember that all their family members matter.
Think about how often your children see grandparents, family friends and other relatives, and build time into your schedule and routines to maintain that contact.
If arrangements for celebrations such as birthdays or Christmas are going to change, try to identify a good time to make a visit or allow relatives contact.
By doing so, children won’t worry that they will lose those valuable connections.
- Never Involve a Child in Disagreements or Negotiations
The ideal scenario is where a child has an equally loving, stable relationship with both their parents. While it might be intriguing to know what an ex-spouse is doing, particularly if you are going through tense settlement negotiations, your child is never the right person to ask.
Ensure that your children are never treated as a go-between, even if the intentions are good, and don’t ask them to take sides, or make a choice about who to live with if they aren’t emotionally mature enough to make that decision.
In some proceedings, the Family Court might ask a child to express a preference about their future living arrangements.
Still, it is usually best not to pressure a child to make such a massive decision unless the courts feel it appropriate.
- Be Honest With Your Children About the Divorce
It is natural for parents to shield their children from the reality of a divorce – but even young children will know something is happening.
The truth is often far easier to manage than any imaginary scenario they might conjure up, so always be truthful about the fact that their parents are divorcing.
Open, honest conversations can be tough but are vital to your children’s feelings of stability.
Suppose you have explained what is happening in as straightforward a way as possible and allowed your child plenty of time to think about it and ask any questions they may have. In that case, you are putting their feelings first and alleviating any stress that can arise from uncertainty.
If there is another adult in their lives that they love and trust, ask if they would be prepared to spend time alone with your children to encourage them to ask any other questions they feel unsure about asking their parents.
- Tell Your Children About the Divorce Together
Telling children that their parents are splitting up can feel overwhelmingly hard – but if you can tackle this conversation together, you set the tone for the future.
Consider how you tell them, what language you use, and how much information to disclose about the reasons behind the divorce, as this should always be age-appropriate and something they can understand.
Never place blame – even if there is a serious issue involved with the divorce. You need your children to feel informed about what is taking place, but not think that it is either parent’s fault.
- Seek Support – For Yourself And Your Children
Finally, remember that it is always braver to ask for help if you need it than to try and go it alone.
Divorce can be challenging for so many reasons, and if you feel that you are struggling to cope, or that your child isn’t managing the situation well, never hesitate to reach out for support.
Many agencies and organisations offer professional support, from counselling to talking groups, support hubs to parenting resources.
For further advice about making the experience of divorce manageable for your children, or recommendations for where to access support to steer you through the world of parenting while divorcing a spouse, do get in touch – we are here to help.