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You are here: Home > Parenting Articles > Divorce and Children - Impact, Change and Care
Divorce and Children - Impact, Change and Care
- written by Helen Williams, a family counsellor and parent educator from New Zealand

Many parents have written asking about how to be a consistent parent around divorce and children.  Divorce can create much change in our children's lives, so that the need to be consistent is highlighted in a major way.

The impact of divorce on children
has a great deal to do with their parents'
maturity and emotional resilience
 
Children have no choices about what happens during and after a divorce. They have no control over the amount of contact they can continue to have with each parent. They may experience a great many changes within a very short time frame such as moving house, home, and school.  They may be fortunate to experience few of these material changes but have much grief to deal with around the changes at home.
 
Helping Children Get Through DivorceOften children have already suffered through a great deal of conflict before and during the divorce process. I have spoken with many parents who are themselves traumatized by sudden and shocking events and changes in their relationships and who struggle to cope with their own emotions, let alone have the emotional capacity to provide for their children's grief and loss.

Many extended family members also suffer extensive grief through protracted divorce proceedings. Sometimes loving grandparents find themselves rejected from the previous frequent contact with their grandchildren, and this creates another loss for children.

Let's look at what being consistent would mean for divorce and children.

Being Consistent

Children need the assurance of knowing that there are solid things in life that can be trusted to remain the same. As a parent it is vital that you try to look at divorce and children from your child's experience and to minimize change where you are able to.Children are immensely adaptable when they understand that new systems will be set in place over which they can have some input.

Listen to your children and allow them to express their grief and fear to you. This means rising above your adult differences and endeavoring to minimize the factors that could continue to add to your children's grief. However this also means keeping divorce and children real.

Keeping It Real

Children know the truth intuitively and their distress is often maximized by what they think they heard, or what they haven't been told and are struggling to make sense of. Parents sometimes erroneously believe that children don't need to know the facts.  Believe me, they do!

Truth is always better than fiction and it's always easier to work with than lies, invention or make believe.  However, in this regard, there is an enormous difference between telling the truth and enlarging only your particular view point! Ask for help from a trusted third party to communicate the truth to children for you if you feel you cannot stop your emotional reactions getting in the way.

Continuity

Try to maintain continuity in daily routines around school, meals, bedtimes, playtimes, friends, and relatives. It feels safer for children when they know what to expect.

Create a safe haven

Grandparents help in DivorceCreate a safe haven of stability where your children know they can go for answers, comfort and continuity. This may be with a relative or friend or a professional. Do try to find someone who cares for and knows your child and is willing to be there in that capacity for them. For many children this is beloved and trusted grandparents.

Just as we seek out trusted friends to listen and care for us, many parents forget that their children also need someone in whom they can confide without having to worry about looking after that person's feelings.

Kids Fighting

Many parents discover an increase in kids fighting which can be ongoing and completely wearing for parents. When you look at your own conduct as parents over the divorce time and really become aware of what you children are experiencing, seeing, hearing and feeling, it is no wonder that they fight.

Children are emotionally plugged into their mothers in deep ways and when they feel this connection has changed, or feel frightened of her emotional pain, they often act out by fighting with siblings.

Brothers and sisters can mostly be trusted not to be going anywhere, unlike their parents who have separated. Simply because they can trust in their siblings love and constancy, brothers and sisters fight with each other during this stressful time.

It's a legitimate way of releasing fear, anger, distress and pain onto someone who will remain constant and always be there. Not that they would be able to express that in so many words! Often the fighting can be very aggressive and simply frightening to the parents.

Children's responses to their parents, because of their egocentric fears that their behaviour may have caused the split in their family, can sometimes prevent them from 'fronting up' with their fears. They just project them instead onto their siblings in the form of anger. This creates a vicious circle that can become extremely difficult to control.

My suggestion is to find some professional help for your family if you feel that your children's fighting is getting out of hand. Ask at their school for some guidance counselling support, or ask your doctor to recommend some counselling for you and your children.

Constant kids fighting is a cry for emotional help and can become a habit with negative consequences for their future.

As parents, try to aim for the best solutions in co-parenting that support your children's positive emotional development. With children and divorce, this is no small task - but a highly essential one for your family's sake.
 

 

About the Author:
Helen Williams is a family counsellor and parent educator from New Zealand currently living in Dubai, UAE, where she runs a busy practice called Counselling Dubai. As well as counselling clients, Helen runs regular Consistent Parenting and Becoming Authentic workshops. Helen has four children and is a proud grandmother and believes that being a consistent parent is both vitally important and totally necessary to ensure a happy family life. However, becoming a consistent parent is rather like trying to push water uphill if we are not consistent within our selves. Consistent Parenting Advice addresses HOW to adopt a firm, clear, consistent parenting approach, while enabling parents to enhance and increase their emotional well-being and become consistent themselves.