Your divorce probably has you feeling like everything is beyond your control. Now imagine the lack of control your children are feeling. Yesterday they had a family with two parents living under the same roof, and today their family life as they knew it is torn apart. Your children may not have any idea how things got to this point, much less have the ability to change things. While it is seemingly impossible to feel in control right now, as a parent it is your role to support your children and help them to cope with the stress of the divorce. Focusing on these four components should help to lessen the stress on your children: patience, reassurance, structure, and stability.
Patience. Have the patience to answer your child’s never ending questions they may have about the divorce. Offer them a listening ear and time to vent. Patience is tricky, especially when you are going through such a stressful time in your life. This is why it becomes so incredibly important for you to take care of yourself so that you can be the best parent you can be. Do whatever you can not to take your own stress out on your children. Even if it’s as simple as locking yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes to cool off – do it.
Reassurance. Reassure your children that they are still loved by both parents, and that they did not cause this. Reassure them that it is ok to have fun and enjoy their time with each parent by not acting jealous or getting upset. Do not put your child in a situation where they are forced to pick a side, which will only cause them more stress. Reassure them that you will get through this together, and that this is not the end of their family, but rather the beginning of a different type of family for them.
Structure. By providing routines kids can rely on, you remind your children they can count on you for stability, structure, and care. This is where parenting plans come into play and are so important to maintaining structure. A toddler may not know what day of the week it is, but something as simple as a color coded weekly calendar showing them what days they go to moms house at what days they go to dads house can help them to understand their routine. A preteen or teen may benefit more from an electronic calendar, where they know exactly who is picking them up from school and activities each day. Find what works best for maintaining structure in your family and stick to it.
Stability. It is important to maintain structure in order to provide stability for your children. If one parent has bailed on picking up the kids for the past two weeks, that child no longer has the stability in their life to help them cope with the stress of divorce. Parents in this situation will often stop telling their children when the other parent is going to pick them up because they hate to see them get disappointed. When this happens the parenting plan needs to be addressed and reevaluated. Not only is it stressful on the parent when the other doesn’t follow through, but it is incredibly stressful on children.
All of these points go hand in hand with one another. The more stability and structure you have, the more reassured your child will be. Divorce may be uncharted territory, but you can successfully navigate this unsettling time—and help your kids emerge from it feeling loved, confident, and strong.
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