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Contemplating Divorce

How to protect kids from ramifications of a divorce?

How to protect kids from ramifications of a divorce?

“Ma and Papa don’t come to the park with me together anymore”, are the words said by Tanvi, a once lively and bubbly little 4-year-old. The separation of her parents and the consequent changes in Tanvi’s life have left Tanvi utterly unrecognizable from the girl she used to be.

Divorce is a painful and life-altering experience even for adults who are equipped with much better emotional and intellectual faculties to deal with it. Imagine how the disruption of routine, stability, and family impacts children? So while you may be dealing with the pain, anxiety, and uncertainty of a divorce, it is of utmost importance to manage your child’s emotional & psychological well-being at a time that is possibly the most turbulent for them.

 

How to handle toddlers & preschoolers (0 – 5 years):

The teething signs of distress in preschoolers may include fear, anger, emotional instability which may be expressed through whininess, anxiety, clinginess or general mood of irritability. Kids who would generally sleep through the night now may have disturbed sleep, wake up crying or begin bed-wetting.

Kids in the age group of 3-4 years may develop inaccurate ideas of divorce – “Dad left me”, instead of “Dad left mom”. There may be a possibility that they might be subjected to taunts by their friends, classmates, peers due to which they could go into a shell and lose self-confidence. It’s essential that the child is cushioned with a great deal of love and support at this time.

  • Give them a constant sense of stability and reassurance. That means it’s urgent to anchor the kids in their normal routines. If things aren’t going well at home, preteens and teenagers can escape by going to hang out with friends. Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers can’t.
  • Talk to them each night about what to expect the next day or in the coming week. This helps the child create a simple picture of what to expect and makes them better equipped to handle all their activities. Prepare them with simple explanations of which parent will move out, where the kid will stay, how frequently they will meet the parent that has moved out etc.
  • Constantly communicate with your kids that they are loved and cared for deeply and that living separately in no way affects that feeling.
  • Some child counselors believe that stories can help children understand and deal with realities better. Use bedtime stories that will help your kids draw the inspiration and example to deal with the circumstances they face in real life.
  • Be prepared for tough questions; provide short simple, concrete answers. Handle one issue at a time and be ready for the next issue when it arises.

 

How to handle 6 – 12 year olds:

Kids in this age group are more aware of what’s going on around them but are still unable to process the complex situations that revolve around divorce. Questions and ‘blame games’ are more frequent here due to their ability to think and reason out. Children in this category tend to develop relationships outside the family: care should be taken that these are nurturing and healthy.

Emotions such as distress, fear, anxiety, sadness, and signs of missing the absent parent are possible signs from school going children. Reuniting their parents could be a common fantasy and acting upon this could lead to extreme and erratic behavior.

  • Talk to the kids about adult decisions. You may not involve them, but it is critical to keep them in the loop.
  • Assure them that certain outcomes that can’t be reversed, are not of their doing and moving forward is imperative.
  • Encourage open and expressive conversation at this juncture. This creates a favorable environment for the parent as well as the kid and thus help the parents to take a remedial course of action.

 

Handle Teens

 

How to handle teens:

Speculatively, this may be the most difficult phase for kids whose parents are undergoing a separation. Teens ask questions, take part in discussions and are more vocal about parental authority. Age on their side gives them a greater capacity to understand some of the ramifications of divorce. For teenagers, relationships outside the family are perceptively more concrete and thus become increasingly important.

While it may be difficult to judge how much of teen moodiness is related to divorce; signs of irritability & anger are common towards one or both of the parents, who are moving out. Sometimes internal strife and divorce-related concerns, may not be the cause for moodiness. However, it shouldn’t go unattended to by parents.

  • Keep open channels of communication so that emotional problems don’t go unnoticed
  • Most teens crave for parental attention but behave like they don’t want to be reached out to. Communicate with your child even if it seems like a futile attempt. Your conversations will assure them of your support in this chaotic scenario. Talking about topics that interest them would be one way of bonding
  • Maintaining normal good parenting, when grieving a lost relationship and preoccupied with lawyers and court dates, isn’t easy. Separating adult issues from your interactions with the kids could be one way of taking this process positively ahead
  • Counseling, if required can also cushion the impact of divorce for both the parent as well as the kid
  • Respecting the relationship of the child with the other parent goes a long way in nurturing the bond

Divorce is the decision of adults to move from unhappy times to a  new start with new possibilities of hope, love, happiness. It most certainly isn’t a tragedy, don’t make it one for your kids.

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