Helping Children Through Divorce, Separation or Other Major Changes



Whether they're dealing with divorce, loss, or an upcoming move, kids going through transition need a lot of love and support.  Even when they don't show it, family change leaves them feeling powerless and vulnerable.  Keep these five things in mind when helping your kids cope with the changes they're going through.

1. Children need to be included

Even positive changes are stressful for kids, who may not be able to envision all of the blessings that can come with a new beginning. Instead, changes are unsettling to kids, and may cause them to be fearful about what lies ahead. You can help to deal  with some of these feelings by answering their questions and providing as much concrete information as possible about the changes. In addition, make a point of including your kids on small decisions, such as which day of the week works best for weeknight visits, or which bedrooms they want in the event of a move. This allows your kids to feel somewhat empowered in the midst of family change.

2. Children Need to Be Heard.

Allow your kids to express their feelings about the family changes you are going through, even when that means expressing negative thoughts and opinions. In addition, try not to talk your kids out of feeling what they feel. Let them feel it. Acknowledging it can be the first step toward their working through it and eventually putting some of the negative feelings behind them. Also, don't tell your kids how you think they "should" feel during this time. If you want them to be grateful for what they have, model that for them by expressing your gratitude for what you have in life, especially them. But do avoid telling your kids how to feel.

3. Children Need the Support of Family & Friends.

Make every effort to allow your kids to spend time with family and friends who love them unconditionally and will support them through this process.  Rely on grandparents, aunts, and uncles (and close family friends) to reiterate the message that your kids are wholly loved and that these extended relationships will remain rock solid.  In addition, in the event of a divorce or separation, you may wish to communicate the news yourself to the parents of your children's closest friends.  However, allow older kids to share the news with their friends themselves, when they feel comfortable.

4. Children Need to Express Their Feelings.

Allow your kids plenty of opportunities to express themselves and process their emotions. Consider how this is likely to happen for each of your children. For some, listening to music is helpful. For others, shooting hoops, painting, or keeping a journal will be key. Since your children may not "feel like it" while they're in the throes of family change and transition, you may need to work extra hard to encourage them to return to the activities that are most soothing to them.

5. Children Need to Be Able to Say No.

Finally, remember that your kids need to have some say in their lives. Particularly when they're feeling overwhelmed and powerless, you may see this come out as a bold, even rude, refusal to cooperate with you.  When this happens, remember that it's coming from your child's need, not because the family change you're going through has utterly changed their core personalities. Take the time to acknowledge that a lot of things feel out of control at this time, and allow your child to say "no" to some things occasionally.  When that's not possible, acknowledge their feelings and let them know that you will make an effort to give them some choices regarding other upcoming events.