The decision to split from your partner is not an easy one to make. And if you have children, it can be an emotionally trying time not only for you but also for every member of your family. Children take comfort in stability, and a separation or a divorce can, therefore, be a stressful time for your children.
According to Hecht & Associates, a divorce attorney, “Parents can ease the stress during this transitional time for their children by keeping the lines of communication open and working together to establish a set of rules and patterns of daily living that work for everyone.”
Here are 10 ways you can help your child feel secure in your love and help them feel stable, even during this trying time.
- Stick to routines.
With so much change going on in other areas of your child’s life, as much as possible observe established routines. Pizza Fridays. Soccer club on Thursdays. Family movie night on Saturdays, etc. This will provide a measure of stability in your child’s day that will help him feel less adrift.
- Show a united front.
Seeing parents disagree can be particularly traumatizing for children. So make a point to show a united front to your children, regardless of the disagreements that you are having with your ex-partner.
- Honor agreements.
If you have promised to take your child somewhere or do something special with him or her on the weekend, honor your promise. Your children will be particularly sensitive during this time. And missing an appointment with your child can harm your relationship during a time when you need to be strengthening it. Keeping your word will provide your child with an anchor to hold on to.
- Take the time to communicate with your child.
Do not make the mistake of pretending that everything is fine. Children are sensitive to their parents’ emotions and have likely sensed that something has changed. Address it head-on with your child. Take the time to explain the divorce in words appropriate to your child’s age and in terms they will understand. What your child wants most from you and your ex-partner is to know that you still love him or her. Reassure your child that that will never change. Another point to consider is that if you’ve decided to retake your maiden name after the divorce and you’d like to change your child’s last name too, you will need to discuss this with your children to see how they feel about this. Afterwards, you’ll need to legally change your child’s last name after divorce, so that you can share a family name going forward. As a single parent, having a last name connection with your child will be extremely useful for school, medical, travel and any other situations that might come up in life.
- Be respectful of your ex.
Never bash your ex in front of your child. Always refer to your ex with respect, and avoid involving your child in any conflict you may be having with your ex. This will help your child feel that things are continuing on as before, even though you or your ex no longer resides with him or her.
- Plan bonding activities.
Think of and plan for a couple of activities that your child will enjoy. And which you can do with him or her for some one-on-one bonding time. The activity need not be elaborate or costly. The important thing is that you give your child quality attention. And that your child feels that they remain a priority in your life.
- Be truthful and do not hedge.
You may be tempted to gloss over your separation when talking with your child. Or to make up a story that you think might be easier for your child to understand. But eventually the truth will come out, and you could end up doing more damage than if you simply told the truth.
- Help them express what they are feeling.
Your child may need help with expressing his or her feelings to you about your separation. Helping them name their emotions provides your child with a sense of control that will help him or her feel empowered and capable.
- Continually reassure your child.
Children benefit from continual reassurances of your love. Even if they are incapable of asking for reassurances, you should know that this is a large need of children whose parents are separating. Make it a priority to give your child frequent vocal affirmations that you love him or her. Comment on how special your child is to you. This will go far in minimizing the instability that a divorce brings and helping your child feel secure.
- Hug often.
You may feel that your child has outgrown his or her need for hugs, but touch is an elemental human need no matter one’s age, which can raise our spirits. If hugging your older child feels awkward, consider instead a touch, a pat on the back, or a high-five.