Janet Murray, author of Divorced But Not Desperate, discusses how you help your children manage the stress and anxiety of divorce and separation.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons my clients give me for staying in unhappy relationship is the fear of what a separation will ‘do’ to their kids. So many of them watched their own parents separate as children and swore blind that they would never do that to their own kids… and are absolutely heartbroken to discover that they can’t keep that promise.
Until your children are grown up and are able to see you as ‘people’ as well as ‘parents’ they’re always going to want you to either stay together or ‘get back together’. I’m not trying to guilt trip you here, just being honest about what a big deal this is for your kids, and for you.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to make the separation process easier on your children. Even if your own parents didn’t handle it perfectly (who does!), it doesn’t mean it can’t be done well.
In my eBook Divorced But Not Desperate I go into depth on some of the more practical as well as emotional strategies you can implement to make this time easier on your children. However, for now I just wanted to share something positive with you:
The resilience and coping skills you teach your children during this time of transition will benefit them not just now, but for the rest of their lives.
You don’t need to be a therapist to help your children with stress. Perhaps the most important skill you can teach them during this time is that stress is something that can be managed. That it’s a part of life, and not some big scary cary monster. Imagine how different your life would have been had you learned stress- management techniques as a child!
Some stress-busting techniques for children:
Encourage and help your children to ‘name’ their feelings, where in their body they feel them, and then to ‘breathe’ into those feelings/places and imagine breathing the difficult feelings ‘out’.
Suggest to them that stress is just ‘stuck’ energy and that going for a run, talking it out, writing it out, having a cry or getting a hug can be enough to ‘unstick’ it.
Allow them to talk about their fears – don’t make any subject ‘off limits’ – never tell them that their fears are ‘silly’. Children are incredibly literal-minded and take such off- the-cuff statements as ‘facts’.
Teach them the difference between ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’ and remind them regularly that they didn’t cause your separation, and that it’s not their fault. Encourage them to use their creativity to express how they feel about the impending separation – often children can paint, draw or use puppets to express their anxieties with a clarity that is breathtaking, even if they don’t have the language to talk about it yet. Getting it “out” can really help them.
Show them how to write down what they are worried about, and encourage them to think through several different ways that they might deal with those worries.
You are their best role model for how to manage stress. If you’re just standing in the kitchen, grim- faced knocking back a bottle of wine, or sitting in front of the TV comfort eating, or ranting at your ex in front of them, what are you teaching them? If so maybe now is the time to upgrade your stress management tools so that you minimize the impact of the divorce on them.
Right now, I get that that this may not feel like much of a silver lining, but believe me that teaching your kids how to identify, manage and bounce back from stressful times are skills they will rely on for a lifetime.
Find out more from Janet Murray’s website: www.haveapositivedivorce.com