In the first part of my supporting kids through tough transitions series, I talked about helpful tips to keep in mind during transitions. In this part of the series, I will provide you with tips on how to support your child during this difficult time.
It’s no secret that divorce can turn a family upside down. The effects of divorce deeply impact both parents and children. One of the most common struggles parents go through is how to support and communicate with their children through this change…
“Is it best to act as though everything is fine?”
“If I talk about it, won’t that just make it worse?”
“Am I supposed to be strong for them?”
It’s normal to have questions about this process. Below I share tips on how to support your child and communicate with them about this major life change in a productive way.
How to communicate in a productive way through this life change
Acknowledge that change is difficult
It may be your first instinct to provide support for your child by saying things like:
“There’s nothing to worry about”
“This won’t change everything”
“Everything will be okay. Don’t you trust me?”
While well-meaning, these phrases can leave your child feeling unheard and alone. This is because such phrases send the following messages:
“Your worries are unreasonable”
“If you trusted me, then you wouldn’t be worried”
This can cause a child to push their feelings away. Why not, they are unreasonable. Unfortunately, intense emotions find other ways out such as outbursts at school, defiance, and trouble sleeping. Furthermore, it makes it hard for them to trust themselves and their feelings. Instead, focus on acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings and concerns…
“I know you’re feeling worried about how this will change our family time together, and that’s okay”
“I’m here for you. Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling?”
“Change is hard. Living in 2 different homes can be chaotic. It’s understandable that this is tough for you.”
Will talking about it make it worse?
The idea that communicating openly and regularly about the separation or divorce will only make it worse is simply a myth. You should check in regularly with your child to see how they’re feeling. These conversations can be focused on this major life change, as well as anything else your child may be struggling with. This opens up the lines of communication, which increases the chances of your child coming to you when they need to. You may find that your child has nothing to say; if so, don’t let that discourage you. Make time to “check in” 1:1 with each other weekly. Some prompts to help you get started can include:
“Which worries about the separation kept sneaking up on your this week?”
“What’s the biggest thing you’re uncertain about?”
“What was the toughest part of your week?”
“What was the best part of your week?”
“I noticed that ____ was hard for you, did it make your feel sad or angry or confused?”
“Mommy and Daddy had to switch days this week. Some kids might feel confused while other kids might feel annoyed. How did you feel?”
Help the kids keep a calendar
Making a calendar with your child is a productive way to create predictability when things can feel pretty unpredictable. This calendar should be theirs (and only theirs) that they can see at home or keep with them. Events on the calendar can include when they’re with each parent, their sporting events, and fun weekend plans. After creating the calendar with your child, be sure to touch base with your child weekly to update their calendar with new or changed events. Furthermore, you can use this moment as an opportunity to talk about upcoming events (“How are you feeling about next week’s basketball tournament?”).
Use rituals to create consistency
During times of change rituals help by creating a sense of consistency. A ritual, no matter how small, can help your child feel grounded in a whirlwind of change. If your child is sharing their time between two homes, I encourage you to create a ritual for when they arrive back at your house. Engaging in a ritual can be as simple as one-on-one time together on the porch every Sunday, or family game night every Thursday. Whichever ritual you choose, make it consistent. Think of the ritual as an appointment you cannot break. And of course, have fun with it!
Check out the whole Supporting Kids Through Tough Transitions Series:
Part 3: Grief from Death
Part 4: Changing Schools
If your child is struggling with a difficult change,
learn more about our Child Therapy Services.
Contact us for a free phone consultation.
Lauren is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist who is passionate about creating a safe space for families, couples, and individuals. Lauren provides her clients with skills and tools to change dysfunctional patterns in their lives. Lauren specializes in treatment for anxiety, food allergies, divorce/remarriage, and grief and loss.