Dr. Aryn Ziehnert
When parents get divorced, kids face these changes without some of the strategies for coping and adjusting that adults have. They do not yet have the maturity, social, and emotional skills to handle all the things that are changing on their own. While they are extraordinarily resilient and capable, going through their parents’ divorce requires help.
Assisting your child in specific ways can help them walk through the experience feeling loved, supported, and more confident.
Why your child needs support after a divorce.
Regardless of the circumstances of the divorce, there is a foundational element of the child’s life that changes in this process. The framework of your child’s life is changing. For many kids, whether the situation is positive or negative, it is all they know and understand about family. Making these changes can impact many areas of their life.
What they understand a family to look like changes, including parental roles, communication, and identity within the family. Beyond that daily connections and responsibilities can shift. For example, a parent who was home a lot may begin working more. Or a parent that was present daily may move away. Even connections outside the family such as those within school or friendships may change if the child moves or goes to a new school.
It is also possible that your child’s living situation may be different. If there is shared custody or visitation, your child may be learning to sleep in a new place or split his or her time between two homes. This kind of transition can be challenging for anyone, especially a child.
As your family faces the changes of divorce, you can make these things easier. You’re already doing that by increasing your awareness of the things your child may be going through. When you have a better understanding of what your child is thinking and feeling beyond your own experience in the divorce, you are learning to help him or her in the ways he or she needs it most.
Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. – Hebrews 4:16, NIV
This is not a cliché or trite response. Prayer is powerful, and God is there to help you and your child as you adjust to your new circumstances.
When we come to God with our worries, concerns, and struggles, even on behalf of our children, He is faithful to respond with mercy and grace that help meet our needs. This may not change specific circumstances, but it helps us face them as we walk through them with our children.
Spend time with your child after a divorce.
Spending time with your children shows them that you are present with them, especially during a time when they may be facing new feelings. Being with them opens opportunities for them to communicate with you as they navigate things.
This doesn’t mean you need to talk about their feelings and the divorce whenever you’re together. Your child may need times when he or she wants to talk about it. Instead, this provides a time when your child can understand that he or she is still safe and loved.
Your presence reminds your child that he or she is secure. With his or her world changing so much, you are showing him or her that you are still there and on his or her side. Even if you are not with your child every day, being present and available on the days you are there shows your child that you care and provide for him or her and that your love has not changed.
Be honest but don’t overshare.
When you provide opportunities to be present with your kids, they may want to talk about the divorce or your former spouse. They are not doing this to make things difficult for you. They are attempting to better understand the situation, seeking a sense of control in something they felt was out of their control. How much you share and what you share will vary based on your child’s age and maturity level.
No matter how old your child is, you must be honest without oversharing. When your child asks questions, honest answers help rebuild the trust that can be a little shaken during this season of transition. Your child, however, does not necessarily need details about the specific conflicts or decisions that led to the divorce.
If you need help navigating how to have honest conversations without oversharing, a Christian counselor is a great resource. Your counselor can help you understand how much to say and how to say it so your child understands.
Don’t speak negatively about your former spouse.
Building off the idea of honesty without oversharing, how you speak about your former spouse has a big impact on your child. While you may have feelings about your spouse based on your relationship, the relationship your child has with his or her parent is different. In most cases, it is important to honor that relationship despite the conflicts that occurred between parents.
When you speak about your former spouse, remember this is your child’s parent. That simple shift in thinking may help in the way you talk about him or her.
Similarly, you don’t need to pretend everything is rosy. Your child already knows you and your former partner have issues. Instead, you can focus on the good things you see your ex-spouse doing when it comes to interacting with your child.
Here are a few helpful things you can say:
- Your mom and I don’t agree on everything but we both love you.
- I appreciate the way your dad takes care of you.
- I know you’re going to have fun with your mom and I can’t wait to see you this weekend!
- It’s hard that your dad isn’t here this week. But he loves you very much.
- It was nice of your mom to make your favorite dinner. She takes good care of you.
When you focus on the positive interaction between your child and their other parent, you help your child feel safe to build a good relationship with him or her, even with the new family dynamics.
With so much change, helping your child develop a sense of security is important. Both parents can start by being there when they say they will. Your child needs to know that you both are trustworthy. Similarly, being clear about schedules, arrangements, and plans will help your child settle into his or her new routines.
Be around other divorced families.
If your child spends all of their time with other kids who have married parents, he or she can feel isolated and different. Be intentional about spending time with other families who have gone through a divorce.
This may feel awkward at first, but giving your child the chance to be around other kids who face things like visiting a parent or staying somewhere else on weekends will make him or her feel less alone. It is also helpful for you as you develop a new sense of normalcy in your life.
Seek professional counseling for your child (and for yourself!).
Talking to a Christian therapist can help kids process divorce in a safe environment. Whether the divorce is just now happening or it happened a long time ago, a Christian counselor offers a safe place for your child to express how he or she feels, ask questions, and develop strategies for long-term well-being.
Similarly, when you take the time to do the same for yourself, you can model the benefits of therapy for your child, process your feelings, and get support for parenting your child through this transition.
Finding ways to support your child during and after divorce goes a long way in how he or she will handle the change in his or her life. Being intentional about supporting your child helps build the trust, security, and communication you need.
Whether you are having any issues that stem from divorce or not, you don’t have to wait until you see problems to seek help. We are here for you and your child. Contact our office to schedule an appointment today.
“Cuddles from Mommy”, Courtesy of Jordan Whitt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Praying”, Courtesy of Patrick Fore, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Playtime”, Courtesy of Markus Spiske, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stuffed Animals”, Courtesy of Anastasia Krutota, Unsplash.com, CC0 License