How To Debunk Your Child's Post-Divorce Fears
How much do you think your child knows about divorce? Their previous exposure to the concept and process may have been limited to representations in television shows or stories they heard from their friends. Whether or not the concept is entirely new, it’s unsurprising for a child to develop fears about what divorce will mean for your family. As parents, you can debunk these fears before their impact becomes even harder on your child.
Here are some of the common fears children have when they’ve just been told their parents are separating and how you can help to reassure your child and quell their anxieties.
My parents hate each other.
If your divorce has caused a lot of conflict between you and your co-parent, your child may fear the strife means their family has formed rifts it’ll never be able to bridge. When communication isn’t handled properly, children can end up witnessing heated arguments, overseeing inappropriate texts, or hear their parents bad mouthing each other. In turn, these observations can lead them to believe they’ll be living with conflict between their parents forever. If the conflict spreads to extended family, it may cause children to worry about their relationships with aunts, uncles, and grandparents as well.
Minimizing conflict between you and your co-parent, especially when in front of your children, should be the utmost priority from the moment you decide to separate. If you’re able to provide a united front for your children, you’ll be showing them that divorce will not be the end of your family. Being 100% conflict-free may not always be realistic. Disagreements may flare up as you grow into your co-parenting relationship, but as long as you have a parenting plan in place and are using tools to help you navigate discord, your children will observe a much healthier example of how to resolve disputes and still feel secure in their relationships with both of their parents
I’ll be forced to choose between my parents.
Parenting schedules are complicated matters that can often be confusing, even for adults, so it’s no wonder that children can become concerned about how they’ll affect their families in the long-run. Some kids may even worry that they’ll be forced to choose between their parents. These fears can deepen if their expressions of missing one parent are met with guilt-trips from the other.
Children should never feel they have to play sides between their two parents. While your relationship with your co-parent may have ended, your child’s relationship with them hopefully remains intact. If your child tells you they are missing their other parent, keep your response positive. If your child expresses any worries about the time they’ll be able to spend with their other parent, make sure any negativity you may feel towards your co-parent is not relayed in your response. It’s natural for a child to miss their parent, and the freer your child feels to speak about both their homes, the less anxiety they’ll feel when moving back and forth between them.
It was my fault they’re getting a divorce.
Unable to understand the grown-up reasons for why relationships sometimes end, kids erroneously place blame for the break-up on themselves. This fear can fester in children of all ages, affecting their self-esteem and how they view themselves.
There are many ways you can combat this worry in children. Because this is a common fear, there are many resources available for children of all ages, including books, that address this scary thought in a way that will calm a child’s fears. Additionally, you and your co-parent can prevent this fear by telling your children about your divorce together. Let them ask questions and be honest with your answers. The more they understand about your separation — at least with aspects that are kid-appropriate — the better they’ll be able to process their grief without blaming themselves.
It’s normal for children to experience some anxiety or worry when they’re told their parents are separating, but many of the fears they have can be combated by attentive parents who are determined to work together. Parents won’t be able to prevent every single anxious thought or feeling in their children. However, having these conversations about fears that naturally arise during a divorce will show your children that you are present and available to help them through tough or scary emotions.