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Minimizing Heartbreak For Kids During Divorce
by E Claudette Freeman

Divorce - the word alone brings up a roller coaster of emotions. When two people find themselves in the crux of ending a relationship that ideally should have lasted a life time there is anger, resentment, distrust, depression, stress and anxiety - to name a few emotions. Those things are what the adults are feeling. The list and range of emotions is then even and often more traumatic for children going through the divorce. Although reactions will depend on a child's age, temperament, and the circumstances surrounding the split, many kids feel sad, frustrated, angry, and anxious — and it's not uncommon for them to act out because of those feelings.

Clearly, having a unified front in divorce might seem like an unusual thing - but it is necessary in the effort to help kids during a divorce. Minimizing the tension the situation creates, being patient as everyone adjusts to the new situation, and responding openly and honestly to your kids' concerns can help them through this difficult time. Your ability to maintain a civil relationship is crucial to a child’s ability to regroup and learn to thrive in a broken marriage.

As soon as you're certain of your plans, talk to your child about your decision to live apart; don‘t make the mistake of trying to live secret lives believing kids don‘t notice. There is no easy way to tell kids of any age that a marriage is over. If possible, have both parents on hand to address questions and to deal with potential emotional outburts. It is important to remember that the kids are the focal point of this particular conversation. To that end, make and keep a commitment to each other to leave your feelings outside of the conversation. Language, according to Counselor Cia Thomas, should be “we have decided, we agree, we want you to know, we love you - even where infidelity is concerned.”

Thomas also says that kids do not need to know every detail — they just need to know enough to understand clearly how their lives are going to change. With younger kids, it's best to keep it simple. You language should resemble: "Mom and dad are going to live in different houses so they don't fight so much, but we both love you very much and will try to help you get through this."

Another key thing in helping kids through divorce is to acknowledge the fact that they may be upset. Let them know that you recognize and care about their feelings and reassure them that all of their upset feelings are perfectly OK and understandable. You might say: "I know this is very upsetting for you. Can we try to think of something that would make you feel better?" or "We both love you and are sorry that mommy and daddy have to live apart."

Also be prepared for a litany of questions and even more important, have responses that you have discussed privately with the child‘s best interest at the center and not your desire to get back at or hurt one another. Some of those questions might include:

• Who will I live with? Where will I go to school?
• Will I still get to see my friends?
• Will I have to go to a different school?
• Can I still go to camp this summer?
• Can I still do my favorite activities?

Try to be honest when addressing your child's concerns and provide reassurance that the family will get through this, even though it may take some time. Here are some ways to help kids cope with the upset of a divorce:

• Encourage honesty. Kids need to know that their feelings are important to their parents and that they'll be taken seriously.

• Offer support. Ask, "What do you think will help you feel better?" They might not be able to name something, but you can suggest a few ideas — maybe just to sit together for a while, take a walk, or hold a favorite stuffed animal. Younger kids might especially appreciate an offer to call daddy on the phone or to make a picture to give to mommy when she comes at the end of the day.

• Get help. This is not the time to go it alone. Find a support group, talk to others who have gone through this, use online resources, or ask your doctor or religious leaders to refer you to other resources. Getting help yourself sets a good example for your kids on how to make a healthy adjustment to this major change. It's very important not to lean on your kids for support.

• Consistency and routine can go a long way toward providing comfort and familiarity that can help your family during this major life change. When possible, minimize unpredictable schedules, transitions, or abrupt separations. Especially during a divorce, kids will benefit from one-on-one time with each parent.

• Whatever arrangement you choose, your child's needs should always come first. Avoid getting involved in a tug of war as a way to "win." When deciding how to handle holidays, birthdays, and vacations, stay focused on what's best for the kids.

• Recognize the signs of stress. Consult your child's teacher, doctor, or a child therapist for guidance on how to handle specific problems you're concerned about.

Counselors and clergy agree that if you can put aside egos, hurt and blame and focus on making the transition about being healthy for the children, then it can be just that in the long run.

Published: May 1,2009 14:49
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