If you've ever gone through a divorce, you certainly don't need anyone to tell you how painful and confusing it can be! Although I'm certainly not proud to admit it, I've been there. After years of reflection on my own experience, as well as work with many other families navigating this pain, I humbly offer four small tips for helping kids cope:
Remember that they need to feel free to love both of you.
During the pain of a divorce, it's awfully tempting to talk negatively about one's ex. It's also very easy to send a variety of powerful nonverbal messages that indicate to your kids that they will be disloyal to you for loving the other parent. The damage this does to children is immense and long-term.
Understand that the healthier you grieve, the healthier they will.
Parents who get stuck in anger inevitably act in ways that alienate their children from the other parent…and from themselves. Parents who work through their grief with help from friends, family, faith family members and professionals are far less likely to fall into this trap.
Resist the urge to parent through guilt.
Wise parents keep the end goal in sight. This goal—to create respectful and responsible adults—helps them remain firm even when their kids say things like, "But Dad lets me!"
Listen, listen, listen…and empathize.
Our kids need to know that it's okay and very natural to be upset about the entire ordeal…as long as they are not acting in disrespectful or irresponsible ways.
For more tips on helping kids cope with grief of all types, listen to "Grief, Trauma, Loss: Helping Kids Cope," by Foster W. Cline, M.D.