School, friends, activities, rituals from the big things to the little things, these routines can be a salve to a child’s heart.
5. Acknowledge and validate your child(ren)’s feelings.
This is one of the most important commitments divorced parents need to make to their children.
If you have difficulty discussing your own feelings in a healthy way, you may benefit from guidance in talking with your children. A therapist or divorce coach can teach you how to elicit the expression of feelings from your children.
Expressing your perceptions and asking direct “feeling” questions can give children the safety they need to open up. And if they hear you express vulnerability in the form of feelings, they will learn to do the same.
6. Keep your language and explanations age-appropriate.
Children don’t need to know the “whys” of your divorce. But they do need (and deserve) to know how their lives are going to be changed.
Speak to the emotional and intellectual age of the children. And be prepared to answer questions and to listen to and validate their feelings.
7. Remember they are children, not “surrogate adults.”
You have other adults in your life to lean on for support. Your child is not responsible for comforting you or taking care of you, no matter how loving and caring s/he is.
If you have to swallow your tears long enough to tell your child that you are taking good care of yourself and will be fine, then do so. But don’t allow your child to take on the emotional burden of being a surrogate for you or your ex.
8. Encourage and support your child’s relationship with the other parent.
Regardless of your custodial arrangement, make sure your child knows that you know how important the other parent is to him/her. Speak supportively, encourage phone calls and communication, and be as flexible as you possibly can toward the other relationship.
Remember, healing a child’s heart after divorce starts with prioritizing your child.
9. Adapt to the child’s age and changing needs.
Children 0-4 will be the most sensitive to changes in their routine, and will need frequent exposure to both parents.
Children 5-12 are still routine-dependent, but now have school and friends for support too.
They can also understand the concept of divorce, but are still vulnerable to blaming themselves and to regressive behavior. They will need the ongoing reassurance that the divorce had nothing to do with them and will not affect your love for them.
As children get into their teens, they can understand more. They may blame themselves or one parent for the divorce. They also have strong attachments to their friends, and may want to make adjustments in their visitation schedules.
Pay attention to the nuances of change that go along with children getting older. And make sure you are being emotionally present to their level of understanding.
10. Take care of yourself.
Taking good care of your physical and emotional health doesn’t run counter to putting your kids first.
If anything, it sends the message that you are capable of taking care of yourself and them. It helps you on your personal journey of healing and makes you a good example of self-triumph to your kids.
Just as importantly, it supports your verbal message that your children are just that — children. They are not your caretakers or surrogate spouses. It’s your job to take care of them, not the other way around.
The responsibility for healing a child’s heart after divorce is huge. And when you are stuck in your own pain, you may wonder if you have what it takes to help your child through this.
If you were a child of divorce, think back to what made your journey healing or more painful. If you weren’t a child of divorce, think about your influence on your children’s current well-being and future relationships.
Coming from a heart-place of awareness and love for your child can greatly inspire your choices. You and your ex may not agree on much or feel any love for one another. But at one time you had enough love between you to create a child.