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How to make separation/divorce less painful for children?


Seeing your parents divorce is hard for any child, young or old. After all, the family unit as they know it may be changing overnight. By giving them the right emotional and mental support you can help them emerge stronger from the experience. Here’s what you need to know. When you and your spouse separate, it has emotional and mental fallout for your kids too. Children experience a sense of loss, anxiety, fear of abandonment, anger, and even guilt that they may somehow be responsible. From stranger anxiety to irritability and anxiety in smaller kids to slipping grades and behavioral issues in teens, every age group handles divorce differently. It isn’t going to be easy, but, fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to make it less painful. Start with some simple but effective steps that’ll help you approach the situation better. 

If you’ve had an acrimonious split from your partner, there is no reason to pull your child into things. Children benefit from having healthy, loving relationships with both parents, so unless you feel your spouse could harm your child intentionally or otherwise, try and keep their relationship independent of yours. After all, you will need to communicate and handle shared parenting responsibilities. It is understandable if you have disagreements and contentious issues to discuss, but do this with tact and care.5 Here are some ways to handle it. Never argue in front of your child. Try and save heated discussions for when they are in school, away at a friend’s or relative’s, or are asleep. Or restrict these conversations to therapy or meditation sessions where your kids aren’t around.Do not pull children into the argument and force them to take sides.Avoid badmouthing your ex in front of your child – it is their mother or father you are talking about after all.When you visit your child or when your partner comes over, be pleasant. Never leave things on a sad or dour note. The child will then look forward to these visits and won’t have to worry about the bad blood between the two of you.You don’t have to be best friends with your ex, but be civil for the few minutes when you hand over or pick up your child. Focus on your child – your smile is for them and you. 
A lot of the conversations you can have with an older child or teenager may be more complicated when you’re dealing with a younger child. They may not always be able to clearly express their feelings and emotions. Here are some ways to help open up those lines of communication. Use role play with dolls and toys to see how they feel about the divorce. Often, a child’s will pick things that are on their mind like a parent moving away.Give them picture books or stories to help them understand or come to grips with things. Books on divorce-related themes or parents moving away can also give them a bigger picture of things – and reassurance that things do turn out well in the end.Emphasize that both parents love them unconditionally and are there for them. You could do this directly telling them that. But also reinforce this by reading stories about characters where the parents love them whether they are with them or not.If you have a caregiver or teacher that spends a lot of time with your child, be sure to speak to them often. Discuss issues and any behavioral changes that they may have noticed so you can help your child cope better. 
Ripping a child from their family home or moving them to a new school where they have to start all over can be shattering to their confidence and morale. The separation of their parents is a big enough change for a child to deal with. Avoid flooding them with more change unless absolutely necessary. Work out an arrangement so that the parent they will be living with retains the family home or at least has it until the school year is out. This will reduce the upheaval and allow them to retain their circle of friends at home and school.Try and organize more frequent visits by the parent living apart, especially at first, to make the transition smoother and the changeless stark. It may be simpler for you to be done with all the changes in one go or to cut away, move on, and get a fresh start immediately. But this could be extremely damaging to your child and may be worth delaying for a while. 

Questions for discussion:

  1. How does separation cause anxiety, behavioral and emotional changes in children?
  2. What are the ways to help children to cope with divorce? 
  3. Should parents discuss practical aspects of separation or divorce with children? 
  • Where will I stay?
  • When/how often will I see dad/mom?
  • Where will dad/mom be living?
  • What if I want to see dad/mom more often?
  • Will I be at a new school?
  • How will we celebrate holidays/graduation/major events?
  • Will I have to stop taking my dance/music/art or other lessons after school?
  • Will dad/mom have to get a job? Where will I go to school if you’re working?  
  1. How to avoid exposing children to negativity?
  2. Should parents communicate with children differently after separation? If so, in what ways? 
  3. How should parents communicate with each other in front of children?
  4. Is it right when parents tell children bad things about each other? Will it damage contacts between children and one of parents?
  5. Is it always right for a child to communicate with the parent he doesn't live with (usually father)? If not, in what cases should a mother prohibit her ex to communicate with the child?
  6. What should a parent do for a child to be OK with his step-parent and step-siblings?
  7. How a parent can avoid his child's jealousy to his newborn half-sibling?
  8. How does divorce affect children's health and development?
  9. Do you think separation will make children prone to antisocial behavior and suicidal tendencies? If so, in what cases?
  10. Is it true that children will have low self-esteem, higher rates of depression and substance abuse? If so, in what cases?
  11. How to avoid this?

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