Separation and divorce are not only difficult for parents, but for children as well.
Often, kids are left feeling unsure of their place in their family, blaming themselves for their parents' problems. But that should never be the case — a child should always feel loved and supported when their parents are splitting up.
With her book Why Do Families Change?, the fourth book in the Just Enough series, hitting shelves this week, Dr. Jillian Roberts, an associate professor of education psychology at the University of Victoria, gives us five tips on how to reduce your child's stress during a divorce.
1) Ensure children are kept emotionally safe
This means never fighting in front of your kids.
"Do not argue in front of them. Do not discuss stressful things (like splitting of assets) in front of them," says Roberts.
2) Protect your children's hearts
Whether the divorce is amicable or not, remember that your children have attachments to both parents, not just one or the other.
"Remember that they love both parents and they deserve to have good relationships with both parents," Roberts says. "No matter how hurt you are, protect their relationship with their other parent and other side of the family." For example, Roberts says that instead of referring to your former spouse as your "ex," call them "my child's father/mother" instead.
3) Keep things simple for your kids
The easier you can make the split for your kids, the better off they will be.
For example, "Do not make your kids carry a backpack full of clothes on change-over days," Roberts says. "Ensure each home has exactly what your child will need. As much as possible, make sure these things are the same — same bedding, same toys, same food — so as to make the transitions easier on your child. Also, keep the same routines, same dinner hour, same homework schedule, same bed times."
4) Help your children understand
Some parents may shy away from explaining such a potentially traumatic life event to their kids, but hiding it and not talking about it will only hurt and confuse them.
"Explain that you love your former spouse, that you will always love them — but you could not be happy living together," suggests Roberts. "This change has been made to give each other a chance to be happy again. Above all, ensure that your child does not feel that they were to blame in any way!"
5) Instill hope and a sense of security in your child
Above all else, make sure your kids know they are loved — by both parents.
"Say things like, 'We will always be a family' and 'There will be a some changes to get used to, but everything will be OK' and 'No matter what happens, our love for you will never end," says Roberts.