Divorce is one of the most stressful life events that any adult will experience. When children are involved the emotional responses of the adults will almost certainly impact on a couple’s ability to effectively co-parent the children. Where there is sustained high conflict between the parents the impact on the children will be long lasting and likely to cause psychological harm to the children. Fortunately, the majority of parents understand that their children need particular support in the context of changing family circumstances. These parents will seek out information about how best to work together to support their children, including seeking assistance from psychologists or family consultants whose experience involves working with separating couples. Implementing the right advice about how to parent together but apart will create the best environment for children to adapt to the separation.
Here are seven tips to minimise the impact of your divorce on your children:
1. Avoid exposing them to conflict
First and foremost, parents should avoid exposing children to conflict. This includes exposure to physical violence and also exposing children to other forms of conflict between their parents. Children will observe negative facial expressions, sarcasm and other forms of tension between their parents which can add to a child’s anxiety about the separation.
Parents should avoid having arguments when the kids are present. This includes arguments over the telephone. Even if they have not heard the conversation children will sense the mood of a parent after the conversation and will be negatively impacted.
As difficult as it can be following separation, parents need to find ways to avoid negative interactions with each other to minimise the risk of harm to the children.
2. Be positive about the children’s relationship with the other parent and extended family
Children thrive when they have access to both their parents. Accordingly, it is important for parents to respond positively when children ask to call the other parent. Allowing children to have an open line of contact with the other parent will help them to adjust to the experience of having two homes. Being supportive of their relationships with grandparents and other extended family members will also reinforce the children’s sense of belonging and add to their sense of security.
3. Ensure children don’t feel the need to take sides
Parents should not make comments which could result in the children adopting a blaming attitude and taking sides against one of the parents. Openly discussing the reasons for relationship breakdown or blaming the other parent for consequences like not having enough money can place enormous pressure on children. The reasons for a breakdown of a relationship are usually complex and children don’t need and can be harmed by the burden of unnecessary information about the sources of conflict between the two people that they love.
4. Seek expert help for yourself
As an adult, it can be difficult to put aside the hurt and distress of relationship breakdown. Getting professional support from a psychologist or counsellor to manage the emotional consequences of the separation is important for a person’s long term mental health and also important when children are involved. Specialist family lawyers can provide expert assistance to deal with the legal consequences of the separation. Getting advice early from experienced professionals will provide reassurance and support for navigating what can be a confusing and difficult period following separation.
5. Get expert help for your children
Whilst a positive attitude can be a good thing overall parents also recognise that disallowing the children to express grief or sadness can make things harder for them as they adjust to their parent’s separation.
Independent of how you and your former spouse are coping, your children may need help to express their feelings. Parents should be alert to signs that a child is struggling with the separation. For example, refusing school or being withdrawn.
Often children need someone else to talk to about what has been happening in their home life. Letting teachers know at school is important. That way teachers can keep an eye out and let parents know of any concerning behaviour. Particularly for older children, counselling with a child psychologist or family consultant can provide support and reassurance.
6. Give your children age-appropriate reassurance
Be careful not to overcomplicate the message, especially if your children are young. Kids will usually hold onto hope that their parents will get back together for a long time. Letting children know that separation is not their fault and they are loved by both parents will assist with the adjustment of having two homes.
When the children are not exposed to conflict the easier it will be for them to feel safe and calm and to adjust to the separation.
7. Assisting the children with the transition between homes
Without appropriate support and forward planning by parents, children can really struggle with the move from house to house.
The transition will be made easier if the children are not rushed to activities and have time to settle back in the home. For most children, a familiar routine can help. For example, the first night might involve the same meal or a quiet activity at home such as watching a movie together.
Creating a quiet space where the children can adapt at their own pace is important and peppering them with questions may hamper their relaxed transition. Creating a familiar and well organised space will assist the children to feel secure and able to adapt to the home space of each parent with ease.
If you are a parent going through a divorce, you could forward this article to your former spouse so that you are both on the same page when it comes to your children.
As a parent, you should recognise that divorce is one of life’s most stressful events and it is wise to seek help about your adjustment to the separation from a psychologist or counsellor.
If you are concerned about your children’s adjustment to your separation talk to an expert family consultant or psychologist.
DDCS Lawyers can provide you expert legal advice about the arrangements for the children including providing you with referrals to family consultants and psychologists
DDCS Lawyers also specialise in all aspects of family law and can help guide you through the difficult process of separation with children. If you need assistance, contact our team on (02) 6212 7600 to book a consultation.