Guest Post from Abi Gold of Juggle
Kids are pretty robust. More often than not, they roll with the blows no matter what’s going on around them. However, the breakup of a family is, without exception, in a category of its own. Conscious and compassionate parenting is more important than ever before, so think about what your kids need from you, and try to keep these things in mind too:
Whilst it’s not appropriate to divulge all the secrets of your relationship to your kids, they will want to know what’s going on, and why.
Try not to shut them out and don’t lie to them. They’ll know, and trust between you is really important right now. This is their life too, and they have a right to know where they stand, so choose your words carefully, and pick the right moments.
All they really want is reassurance. They want to hear you say that everything will be okay, and that you love them unconditionally. That’s what they need to feel safe and to move forward.
Some kids will want to talk, and talk, and talk! And all you have to do is give them the time and space to let it out.
Others will need to be encouraged. But not pushed. Some kids will take a little longer to process what’s going on, to form the words, or develop their emotional responses.
The best thing you can do is to assure them that you’re there for them whenever they’re ready. Let them know that they can trust you, and that you’re not going to be angry with them, even if they are with you. Tell them that you love them unconditionally, and when they do talk, try to be open and patient to avoid conflict or withdrawal.
You may not feel like it, but your kids are more likely to cope with the separation if they see that you’re coping. Try to smile wherever possible, to let them see you enjoying life and enjoying them.
Give them a break
Expect to see some negative behaviours in the weeks and months surrounding the separation, but try not to judge them too harshly. It’s perfectly normal for them to respond in one way or another, so don’t be surprised by bed wetting, tantrums, nightmares or a bit of trouble at school.
Deal appropriately with bad behaviour, to avoid it becoming a habit, but bear in mind that it is probably a reasonable response to real turmoil. Avoid getting angry, and offer extra cuddles and plenty of opportunities to talk. And be prepared to seek professional help if you need to.
Avoid unnecessary change
A family break up is difficult enough for little ones to cope with, without other aspects of their lives changing too. There are those changes which are inherent and necessary in a separation, and every effort should be made to limit the impact of those changes for little ones.
However, the benefits of maintaining the status quo as far as is possible are vast. Kids need routine, familiarity and their friends and family around them. There is comfort to be had in going to the same school every day, with the same friends and the same teacher. And there is security in knowing that some things will be just as they always were.
Transition to a new phase in life is less traumatic for kids when there is predictability, and an established and trusted support network.
No matter how old, how bright or how laid back they are, all kids need their parents to step up when their family breaks down. And, whilst it may be hard work, investing time and patience now will ensure that the future will be bright for you all.
Abi is a barrister and family therapist who runs Juggle, a family and parenting consultancy that supports, advises and counsels parents as they face the challenges of raising their kids. For more information or to book an appointment, please call Abi on 03 9038 5955 or see www.familyjuggle.com.au.