4.14 - What Children Need to Hear
You can do a number of things to help your children adjust to the new situation.
First, establish a new family structure which includes:
- Sticking to daily routine.
- Maintaining rituals related to birthdays and holidays.
- Empowering children to ask questions freely.
- Talking openly with children about changes that will affect them.
Also encourage them to express their feelings :
- Children are entitled to their feelings—encourage free expression of emotions.
- Empathize with how your children feel.
- Reassure them of your love and care.
You can also give them space to grieve:
- Children grieve the loss of the family—this is normal for children and adults.
- Children might express difficult feelings towards their parents. Try your best not take their criticisms personally.
- Learn and practice skills of active listening such as mirroring.
Offer reassurances whenever possible:
- Reassure your children that you love them unconditionally.
- Tell them that the love of a parent for a child never changes.
- Parent to child love differs from parent to parent love, because a parent loves a child forever.
- Reinforce that the separation/divorce is NOT their fault.
- Children should never be encouraged to take sides.
It is also very important to set limits on behaviour:
- Children need a stable, predictable environment with clear rules and a parent they can depend on.
- Don’t leave decision-making responsibilities to your children; consult with your children, but make decisions for them.
- Give your children responsibilities and household chores.
- Set and maintain limits to help your children feel more secure.
- Meet your child’s need for being with friends.
Protect your children from arguments and violence:
- Prevent your children from witnessing arguments or violence between you and your former partner. Consider your motivation for saying what you say to children. Explain to your children that you have made mistakes in the past but it is not too late to start making changes today.
- Seek counselling or a support group away from your children to address strong personal feelings about the separation.
In the PAS Handbook, there is a list of “Tips for Children” to help them survive the separation. Give your children a copy of the tip sheet and discuss each item with them.