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Dealing with Divorce

December 6, 2011
Karen Waller , movparent

"It's all your FAULT!" "Whose FAULT is it?" "Not my FAULT!"

These phrases are tag lines in the blame game that is sometimes divorce, and the child or children become enmeshed in the game as it plays out. Often discussions and conversations are difficult as issues arise, and meeting these situations with some well-planned words can help children move through the stages toward acceptance of the new family arrangement.

Many children think they themselves have caused the change in dynamics of their families. The best conversation a newly divorced couple can have with their children is to say in a reassuring way that no matter what the circumstances of the separation, it is NEVER the child's fault.

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Next, how can you respond to these thoughts from a child? "If I am good, Mom and Dad will get back together," or "I bet I can do something to get them back together."

According to Helpguide.org in its segment titled Children and Divorce, the wise thing to "say" to the children to allay these feelings or intents is the truth about why you are getting a divorce, simply and honestly. Tell them even though parents don't always get along, parents and kids don't stop loving each other.

There is nothing they as children can do to get their parents back together.

But, children need to know their basic needs will continue to be met. Explain their relationship with both parents will continue, and their routines will also continue, perhaps with some modifications. Above all, explain this was an adult decision that is final, and one that had nothing to do with the love that continues between parents and children.

Remember to ask, "How are you feeling?" and show you really are listening. Meet as a family to talk about concerns, plans for events, trips, etc., and any changes. Allow children to express feelings, and help them stay informed about family issues and activities.

Know that the child feels there has been a great loss in his or her life, and there may be anger at you, the other parent or both of you. Listen to these feelings and don't say, "You shouldn't feel that way." Instead, validate their feelings with, for example, "I know you are sad because you can't see your Dad (or Mom) today." Help them find the words for their feelings, and help them to know that what they feel is okay, and you won't be hurt by their expression.

Avoid the temptation to blame the other spouse when plans get messed up or when the child says he or she is sad or misses the way things used to be. Try to agree up front as parents when determining what to say about the divorce and how to present such topics as holiday plans, homework completion and chores in the two homes. Plan to talk to the child or children together when living arrangements are presented.

Be respectful of the other spouse when talking to the children about him or her. Children often feel caught in the middle about many things such as visitation, event arrangements or daily decisions when their parents are separated. Talking negatively or with blame toward the other suppose only adds to their "caught in the middle" feelings.

Here are some tips to help both you and your children during stressful conversations, according to the American Academy of child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

1. Do not keep the divorce or other difficult topics secret until the last minute.

2. Tell the child about the divorce together with your spouse.

3. Keep things simple and straight-forward.

4. Tell them the divorce is not their fault.

5. Admit this will be sad and upsetting for everyone in the family.

6. Reassure your child you both still love him or her and will always be his or her parents.

7. Do not discuss each other's faults or problems with the child.

If a child shows signs of distress, your family doctor or pediatrician can refer you to a child and adolescent psychiatrist for evaluation and treatment, plus meet with the family to help members learn how to make the strain of the divorce easier on the entire family.

Good books will help you find words to say when there are concerns or just to check how the children are feeling. "It's Not Your Fault, KoKo Bear," by Vicky Lansky; "Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families" by Brown and Brown ; and "How Do I Feel About My Parents' Divorce" by Julia Cole are great conversation starters.

Knowing what to say, how to say it and what not to say will give the child the benefits of your honesty and your much-needed listening ear, making it a little easier to avoid blaming and faulting as you navigate the waters if a new divorce and the changes you will constantly encounter.

Karen Waller is a guidance counselor for Belpre Elementary School.

 
 

 

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