Helping Children of all Ages Deal with Divorce

As a parent you are in what Carl Rogers, author, teacher, psychologist, called a “helping relationship.”  By this he meant a “relationship in which one of the parties has the intent of promoting the growth, development, maturity, improved coping with life, and improved functioning of the other”.

When you are looking for help and support in your life do you seek the support of people you can’t trust to be honest?  Do you seek people who tell you what to feel and what not to feel?  Do you seek people who are so caught up in their own drama that they have difficulty listening to your needs and wants?  Of course not.

You and I, fellow parent, are trying to have a helping relationship with our kids.  Every day we face decisions that we are ill-prepared to make.  Every day we try to avoid the behaviors our parents did that were not helpful, and try to remember the things that our parents did that worked.  Every day we master a skill we needed yesterday, only to be faced by a need for a different skill today.

To help children deal with divorce we must be willing to be honest about our own feelings, but not be so lost in those feelings that we are not able to listen to our kids.  We must be compassionate to the feelings of fear, sadness and anger that may arise in our children, accepting and embracing these feelings as the path to transforming them.

Helping children cope with divorce requires maturity on the part of the helpers.  It can be very tempting to try to enroll your children into your point of view about what is wrong with the other parent.   It is easy to find yourself identifying one parent as “the problem”, saying words like: “your father doesn’t love me anymore” or “your mother doesn’t want to try to patch things up between us”, or much worse.   Sadly, too many parents push their children to take sides, saying or implying that if you really love me you’ll see that it’s that other parent’s fault.  Always remember, your intent is to promote your child’s health and wellbeing.

Here, then, are six simple tools you can use to help children deal with divorce:

  1. It is good for your children to know that you have feelings about the divorce.
  2. Encourage your children to notice that they have feelings, too.  Accept that you, and they, may be confused, unsure of feelings, conflicted.
  3. When listening to the child’s feelings, just listen, without trying to “fix” anything.
  4. Tell your kids what you hear them saying and also what you are sensing they feel, based on what they are saying and not saying.
  5. Take time to talk, listen to, and be with each child individually.
  6. Most importantly, make sure you get the support you need, so you do not use your kids to be your “emotional helpers”.

Feelings change over time, so repeat all these steps frequently.

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