I need both of you to stay involved in my life. Please write or text me, make phone calls and ask me lots of questions. When I don’t hear from either of you, I feel as if I’m not important and that neither of you really love me.
Please stop arguing and work hard to be friends. When you argue about me, I think that I must have done something wrong and I feel guilty.
I want to love you both and enjoy the time that I spend with each of you. I feel as if I need to take sides and love one of you more than the other.
Please communicate directly with each other so that I don’t have to send messages back and forth.
When talking about my other parent, please say only nice things, or don’t say anything at all. When you say horrible, unkind things about my other parent, I feel like you are expecting me to take your side against the other one.
Please remember that I want both of you to be a part of my life. I desperately need both of you to bring me up, to teach me what is important, and to help me when I have problems.
Most children feel angry, sad and frustrated about the prospect of their parents splitting up for good. How you deal with the situation will have an effect on your child throughout their life.
Ways to help your children
As well as reminders that they will be loved and cared for, reassure them about what they may fear. For example, “I know you are upset about moving, but we will make sure you can stay in the same school”.
Offer your physical presence and support by giving your children plenty of hugs, take a walk together, or sit companionably together. Encourage them to share their feelings and really listen to them. You can help them by noticing their moods and encouraging them to talk, “I see that you are upset – do you know what is making you sad/angry/frustrated?” Show that you understand, e.g. “I know that you feel sad without mom here” or “I understand that you like to have dad tuck you into bed.”
Uncertainty causes children to worry. The family unit they counted on is breaking apart. A regular routine at bedtimes, mealtimes etc. will show the continuity of mom and dad’s love and diminish uncertainty about new living arrangements.
What to say to your children
Both parents should talk with the children before any changes in the living arrangements occur, but don’t overwhelm them with details. Be respectful of each other when giving the reasons for the separation.
Generally younger children need less detail and will do better with a simple explanation. Older children will seek out more information and it will be up to you to share information without saying too much. Ensure that there is no blame attached to them whatsoever. Reassure them that both parents will continue to love them and that they are not responsible for the divorce.
Children need their parents to be as emotionally-strong as possible in these difficult circumstances. So, avoid isolating yourself from people, take care of your health and your children’s health, eat a healthy balanced diet and take some exercise
Try to bring some humour and play into your and your children’s lives. Laughter relieves stress, adds joy and provides a break from sadness and anger.
How to deal with your spouse in front of the children
Do not argue with your spouse and be polite in front of your children or on the phone.
Don’t discuss with your children details of your spouse’s behaviour.
Make it a priority to develop an amicable relationship with your spouse.
If you are feeling intense anger, fear, grief, shame or guilt about your spouse, find a good friend or a therapist to help. By processing your emotions through writing or talking with supportive people, you will be giving a good example to your children.
Outside help for your children
Children need people to talk to other than their parents. They may find it easier to talk to a friend, teacher, relative or counsellor. Be sure to tell your children’s teachers about the situation at home. Trained mental health professionals can help children work through their feelings one-to-one or in a counselling group.
Bad reactions in children
Angry or violent outbursts
Traumatic stress or shock
Poor concentration, chronic forgetfulness, declining grades at school
Drug or alcohol abuse
For any of the above, professional intervention may be necessary. Cognitive behavioural therapy can be very helpful with anxiety and depression. There is a significant need for child mental health professionals, along with other child specialists, to provide sufficient support for children of divorced parents in all the necessary psychosocial aspects of the child’s life.
Above all, despite your own stress about your problems, don’t forget the children. Let them know that even though the family unit will change, both their parents will be there for them. Knowing that things will eventually be all right can provide your children with an incentive to give the new situation a chance.
What they need most is love and reassurance from both parents.
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