When parents decide to go through a divorce, it can have debilitating effects for the children. According to Amy Morin, LCSW, “Divorce creates emotional turmoil for the entire family, but for kids, the situation can be quite scary, confusing, and frustrating.” They may feel like their future is bleak, and they have nothing to look forward to. Parents sometimes don’t realize this because they, too, are going through a difficult situation and may not be functioning as well as they wanted to be for their children. However, parents must remember to prioritize the needs of their kids despite their decision to separate.
As the process of divorce progresses, children go through a whole gamut of emotions, which can include:
- Guilt that perhaps they have caused the divorce
- Confusion as to which parent they will be staying with
- A feeling of loss
Many factors may determine how affected children may be. This can depend on their age, the support that they are getting, and how they can take the whole situation. But definitely, it is the continuing conflict and feelings of bitterness and anger between the parents that can cause mental and emotional damage to the children. So it is very important that both parents set aside whatever they feel for each other and together find ways to reassure their children that no matter what happens between them, they still have two parents and they are still so much loved.
Here are some things that parents can do for their children through this difficult time.
- Be as honest and open as you can be about the situation. “If possible, both spouses should be together when telling the children of the impending separation or divorce,” suggests child psychologist Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. Talk about where they might like to stay, or if their pets go with them, and how to go about with school, among others.
- Do not, however, include them in discussion regarding adult obligations, such as finances or properties. These will only confuse them more.
- Create a space for them that is comfortable, space where they are free to talk about how they truly feel without any criticism. Answer them as gently and as honestly as you both can, and let them feel that they are always top priority despite the situation.
- Do not talk negatively about your ex to your children. You are still their parents, and they need to respect that – so don’t give them a reason not to respect you.
- Continue with the usual school activities and keep practicing the usual routines if there are any, like visiting relatives on Fridays or eating out on weekends. If possible, don’t introduce big changes.
- Do not, in any way, ask your children to take your side. There should be no sides for them but their parents, which means both of you.
Counseling For Children
Undoubtedly, divorce tremendously affects children. Fortunately, counseling can help them heal and experience less trauma as they go through this painful time of their lives. Counseling for children during separation or divorce offers them, someone, to talk to who is able and willing to listen wholeheartedly and will give them their undivided attention. They can talk about their parents’ divorce, or they can talk about anything for that matter. It can be about school or things that make them happy. Counseling provides a sense of normality for them.
When they have regular counseling, this can fill in that space and serve as a temporary safe base while the family is in some difficulty. During the sessions, the counselor can help foster unity and closeness between the siblings and guide them toward acceptance, forgiveness, and healing.
Counseling children amid separation or divorce has proven to be an effective and helpful way to reassure children that they have other kinds of support while they are going through difficult times. It cannot erase the painful truth that their parents are no longer together, but it does help them realize that they are not at fault, they are worth the time, and that they are loved.
According to Sharie Stines, Psy.D., “Healing requires patience, understanding, safety, and validation.”