Divorce is a stressful thing for two adults to deal with. People walk away scarred, angry, and, if they are at all honest with themselves, a little bit lonely. Between the he said she said, the expensive lawyers, and the bitter friends and families choosing sides, it's easy to see how all of this would then be even more stressful and overwhelming to a toddler. Such fragile, innocent minds should never have to experience a family, their family, being torn apart. Unfortunately, divorce affects more than one million children each year. So what can we do to help?
First things first
Let hem know it isn't their fault. It never was their fault, and it never will be. Simply due to the questioning nature of a child, you may have to go over this with them time and time again. If that is the case, do it. Then do it again just to be sure. In fact, both parents should do it to comfort the child and let him/her know that mom and dad are in agreement on this one. It isn't their fault, no bones about it.
How to deliver the news
There is no good way to tell your children about the divorce. The best thing you can do is keep it simple, short, and reassuring. For example, you might start by telling them that mom and dad have been having trouble getting along lately, and think it is a good idea to live apart for a while. Eventually, "a while" will be accepted as permanent. (unless of course "a while" means you are only separating and in need of counseling) Let them know that they are still equally loved by each of you, and that you will both be there to take care of them. After this, just listen. Hug them, hold them, talk with them, etc. Just remember to listen more than you speak, and leave your issues with your spouse out of it. Right now, this is about them.
Dealing with what comes next
One can never know how a little child will react to such a traumatic event in their lives. Just be ready to be there for them no matter what emotion comes next. Sometimes a child will act out in anger, by becoming more defiant at home and in preschool. Sometimes he/she may pull away from both of you. Be understanding, talk with them frequently, and seek out help if you need to. Child counselors are trained to deal with situations like these, and may know better how to help your child come to terms and develop a healthy attitude about things.
Another common response to any trauma, specifically that of divorce or the death of a parent is regression. Your little one may begin to act much younger than he/she actually is. This could also be out of anger, an attempt to frustrate you and demand more time and care. Or, it could be an attempt to make things as they once were. They may try and change the situation by pretending to be younger. In their minds, mommy and daddy loved each other when they were just a baby. Bed wetting, loss of appetite, and sleeplessness may also occur along with this regression. Stay strong and supportive. Offer lots of opportunities to talk about it, but know when to back off.
Keep filling the gaps
Don't allow your child to dwell on the absence of his/her father or mother. When one parent is away, allow them to spend time with another family member of the same sex. It isn't a replacement, but the temporary substitution does ease the pain a bit.
Most importantly, keep filling your child with love and support. Make sure they don't feel responsible or trapped in the middle. No child should ever feel as if they have to choose one parent or the other. And although your divorce may be bitter and uncomfortable, when you come together for your child, try to put away your arguments and differences. This is their time for healing.
This blog post was provided by Stephanie Parker – our blog writer extraordinaire!