While separation or divorce can be a difficult period of change for all family members, children often have a particularly tough time adjusting. It’s natural to worry about how your new family situation will affect your kids, but don’t worry; there are many strategies you can implement to help them cope and to ensure that every family member emerges from this period of adjustment with a positive outlook.
Here are five ways you can build a positive, supportive relationship with your children while you’re undergoing this tough transition.
- Encourage supportive communication
Many children will have questions about their ever-evolving family situation, and the best way to show your support is to talk with them honestly and openly about what’s going on. Open communication can include regularly asking them how they’re feeling about specific situations, sharing some of your feelings with them, and making dedicated time and space for private conversations.
When you’re talking with your child about these matters, be aware of your body language. Try to stay relaxed, with an open stance (uncross your arms and legs), maintain natural eye contact to show you’re actively listening, and offer physically supportive gestures such as hugs and gentle hand holding where appropriate.
- Rely on routines
Routines can help provide some predictability when other aspects of your child’s life are a bit wonky, so try to maintain some of the activities that formed part of your everyday family life. Even though something as new and challenging as co-parenting might now be your reality, you can still create some sense of stability for your child.
Try a combination of old and new routines, such as family dinners on Wednesdays, school drop-offs by one parent in the morning or soccer practice pick-ups by the other parent. Unknowns and unpredictable situations can often create anxiety, so having a few things your child can rely on can help them to handle any feelings of distress.
- Be sensitive to their emotions
Children of all ages are constantly being challenged by new environments. The teen years can be difficult to navigate in general, with their many hormonal changes and mood swings. A separation or divorce can often intensify these feelings for your child, so it’s important to understand the range of emotions they can experience during this period, such as anger, sadness and even anxiety.
If they choose to reach out to you for help, try to be patient with them and sensitive to all of these reactions. Give them your full attention when talking with them, and make an effort to show them that you understand how hard it can be.
- Band together
Although you and your ex-partner are going through your own period of change, it’s important to try to band together to support your child. This shows your teen that although some things are changing, they can always rely on their parents, no matter what.
First, find some strategies that work for you and your ex to ensure you’re on the same page when dealing with your separation. Encourage and help your child to seek out and strengthen their support networks beyond you and your partner. You could also include siblings, extended family members, other trusted adults such as neighbours, or your teen’s role models (sports coaches, teachers and the like). If your teen is comfortable with it, involving their wider network can create more opportunities for support for your child.
- Don’t forget to focus on yourself
It’s normal to find this situation challenging for yourself, too. In order to support your family, you also have to remember to take care of yourself. Make time to recharge, both mentally and emotionally. Having a clear mind and healthy body will let you handle any stressful situations more calmly. You’ll be showing your teen your positive communication and coping skills and that you value wellbeing and health. You’ll be a stronger parent and family for it.