So you have decided to separate/divorce/breakup and there are kids involved. You want them to have the least amount of upset in their lives as possible. You want minimize their pain, anger and fear. I work with children whose parents are going through a breakup and those whose parents broke up decades ago who continue to have issues with relationships and self image. Because your child is not “acting out” don’t forget that they are going through many emotions and depending on their age, these emotions in and of themselves, can be frightening. Children are most fearful about what will happen to them. Depending on their age, they may feel responsible for the breakup, as if they did something to cause it, or were “bad”.
There are things YOU can do to lessen the severity of the emotions your child will go through:
- If possible, be on the same page as your ex with regard to co parenting
- Make it about the child, not yourself
- Never speak poorly of your ex to or in front of your ex (or on the phone, as they hear everything)
- Never blame your ex or yourself for the breakup. A relationship takes TWO people to make and TWO to break
- Do not Parentify your child
- Do not argue about money or blame the other parent for not having “enough”
- Be cordial when at your child’s sporting events, band concert or teacher conference. As they get older, you will attend weddings together and attend grandchildren’s first birthday parties.
- Remember this is your divorce, not your child’s. They still have two parents, when you speak ill of your ex, you are speaking about half of your child’s DNA. It never ends well when this is done.
- Take care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. Don’t be a martyr. When you are well, your children are well.
- Don’t participate in drama on social media surrounding your breakup.
- Make a clean break from your ex. Disengaging will help you to recover and will provide clear boundaries for your child to lessen confusion.
- Assure your child that your breakup was not caused by anything they did or did not do.
- Be very clear about schedules and visitation and stick with a routine to help your child negotiate the changes and have clear expectations.
- Do not make your child feel guilty for continuing to love his other parent.
This is what I will do with your child in Counseling:
- Encourage honesty about their feelings
- Validate that whatever they feel, they are safe, loved and will be cared for.
- Explore how they feel about everyday events and how they are managing (visitation, school, friendships)
- Discuss risky behavior they may be prone to test (alcohol, drugs, sex, school disengagement, social media)
- Hold space for your child to express whatever they need to, however they need to.