By Karyna Jansons, Owner of Ceres Counselling
Separation and divorce usually mean monumental changes for family life. If you have children and are separating, it’s normal to worry about how your children are going to adjust to this new way of living and it’s also normal for children to have a difficult time adjusting. But don’t worry, there are many tools available to you to help ensure your children have the best support while undergoing these family changes.
Here are some helpful tips and tricks to help you support your children (and yourself!) during these challenging times.
- Openly and honestly communicate with your children about what’s going on in a language appropriate for their age-level. While this doesn’t mean you tell them all the nitty gritty details, engaging them in honest conversation about what’s happening and giving them the opportunity to discuss how they feel about the situation can help your child feel included, loved and cared for. Children will often have ever-evolving questions about the changing dynamics, and making time and space for private conversation with them can help alleviate some of their anxiety. When talking about these matters, make sure you’re aware of your body language and try and stay as calm as possible.
Helpful tip: Do not bad-mouth your ex-partner in front of your children, no matter how you might feel about them or what has happened. This can create anxiety and sadness in children, and even feelings of guilt, shame or confusion about their natural love for a parent. Children need to be given agency to decide how they feel about a situation or about a parent’s behaviour.
- Be sensitive to your children’s emotions. Separation is tough on everyone, but it can be especially tough on kids. For young children, separation can be a crash-course in emotions they haven’t experienced yet, such as anger, guilt, shame, fear or loneliness. Put a teenager in the mix combined with their changing bodies, hormones and individual identity development and you’ve got a recipe for tumultuous times. Allow your children to feel and express their emotions and validate what they are feeling. If they choose to reach out to you, make sure you give them your full attention and let them know you understand how hard it is.
- Stick to a good routine and blend new and old rituals. Separation can bring a change of routines and challenges around foundational aspects of your child’s life, such as moving to new locations, co-parenting or navigating two separate schedules. This can be disorienting and anxiety-inducing for children as they crave security. If you are able to have positive parenting conversations with your ex-partner, agree on schedules and routines that help the children, such as the same bedtimes and school drop-off/pick-up routines. It may also be helpful to continue engaging in old rituals, such as Sunday roasts or Saturday morning walks to provide some continuity. Allow the kids to put in their ideas for new rituals as well. Spending quality time with the children before bed every night, such as reading a story or waking them up in the same manner every morning can also help them feel safe and secure.
- Strengthen your children’s support networks. Separation can feel like an isolating time for kids, so it’s important they have strong social support outside of you and your ex-partner. Keep them regularly in contact with friends, extended and supportive family or community networks (such as schools, sports or youth groups). This allows them the opportunity to voice their feelings to others if they need to. While you may want your children to talk to you about everything, there will always be some things they feel they can only voice to friends or other trusted confidants. If you really feel like your children are struggling badly, counselling can help but your child needs to be on board with you seeking out additional support for them.
- Look after yourself! Make sure you take enough time-out for you as well. If you’re struggling, it’s likely to make things more difficult for your children if you’re not coping well. While some ups and downs are normal during this difficult time, you don’t want to burn out. Get enough rest, sleep and down-time. Rely on your own support network, and seek professional assistance if you’re really struggling to cope. Remember that while smooth seas never make a skilled sailor, it’s not helpful to try and chart a course on your own during a major storm. Take time for you, and put yourself first every once in a while.
About Karyna Jansons:
Karyna Jansons is the owner of Ceres Counselling, a warm, non-judgemental and deeply compassionate counselling service for clients who want to be seen for their wholeness and not just a label or diagnosis. Having lived and worked remotely in the NT for nearly 20 years, she is now based in Queensland where she provides online and phone counselling to anyone across Australia. She has previously worked with women and children escaping domestic violence, youth involved in the justice system and adults with severe mental health concerns. She is passionate about making counselling accessible to everyone and is passionate about breaking the stigma that surrounds mental health.