We have asked Sue Atkins, ITV This Morning’s parenting expert, the thorny question:
How do you support your child though your divorce?
Present a united front
Despite divorce being on the increase around the world, parents often feel at a loss when searching for practical support. They also feel overwhelmed, confused, afraid, resentful, or completely frozen in panic about how to handle the changes in their family’s way of life.
Sometimes this fear manifests itself as animosity, which turns the whole divorce process into a battle, with children trapped in the middle and feeling powerless.
Remember: Divorce needn’t be like this. Parents can make positive, healthy choices during this very emotional time and make the transition less painful for everyone.
I’ve worked with many parents going through divorce and one of the main worries is how to tell their children about what is going to happen and what to actually say to them.
Children naturally fear that they’ll lose one of their parents in divorce or that their parents will abandon them. They also fear the changes and disruptions that divorce inevitably brings to their family. Children often blame themselves.
When a marriage becomes troubled, a couple often relies on old habits of interacting, which lead to fights rather than solutions. If those old habits didn’t lead to constructive solutions during the marriage, they’ll surely reap no better results during the divorce.
Bitter fights in the divorce courts often stem from these old ways of handling differences.
You may not have been a united front while married, but you and your partner must take this opportunity for the good of your children to work together.
Understanding and identifying these stages can be very helpful when you’re talking about divorce and deciding how to nurture your children through this difficult time. Identify your present stage of grief and be aware of it.
Practical guidance: the divorce Journal for kids
Sue advises giving your child a divorce Journal. She says: Keeping a Journal is a very simple, but powerful way to support children. As caring adults, we can help by simply acknowledging & listening to how a child may be feeling, without trying to “fix it”. The Journal is designed to support open and honest communication and to help children feel heard, understood and supported during a time of great upheaval.
Sue’s practical suggestions for parents using the Journal
- Explain the Journal
It’s very important to explain to your child that this is a different kind of book. This is a Journal where your child can share their feelings and thoughts or simply process what’s happening to them for themselves. It won’t be marked, they won’t be judged and it is totally up to them how they use it.
- Young children
Very young children may need to have the Journal read aloud to them and to do the Journal little and often.
- Elder children; making them feel in control
Some elder children prefer to write and draw in their Journal at their own pace and in their own time. They may enjoy picking and choosing the order in which they write in it. Let your child decide for himself or herself how they’d like to use their Journal. They will enjoy feeling in control of the process and exploring their thoughts.
- Respecting your child’s privacy
Help your child to decide a safe place to keep their Journal.
Top Tip for supporting your child through divorce – Make time for your child, and listen
Regularly make time to ask your child how they are feeling; it will not always be the same; divorce is a process not a discrete event, and it is a process your child is living through with you.
Pick a quiet time, turn off the TV, and put away your mobile phone. Choose a private place, create a safe space and focus on really listening to your child without interrupting or making them feel judged, or guilty about what may come up.
This is about helping your child feel heard, understood and supported while they go through this life changing event. Be accepting and non-judgemental. There are no right or wrong answers to their feelings and experiences. Accept everything and ponder and reflect later about what you discover
More information can be found on Sue’s Website: www.TheSueAtkins.com
Sue’s divorce journal for kids is available via her website at: https://www.sueatkinsparentingcoach.com/product/the-divorce-journal-for-kids/
Sue also offers a “supporting your child through divorce” 6 week coaching programme, amongst a number of other resources for parents going through divorce. https://www.sueatkinsparentingcoach.com/product/6-week-coaching-programme-supporting-children-through-divorce/