How To Help Children Going Through Grief During Divorce

How To Help Children Going Through Grief During Divorce

It may appear that children are adjusting well to their parents’ divorce, however they may be going through grief and hiding it. They do not want to be an extra burden to stressed-out parents. The youngsters’ world is being torn apart and they may be struggling. We are preoccupied with out divorce proceedings and can miss what is really going on with the kids. Through no fault of their own, the children often have to pack up their possessions for a move which may entail going to a new school. Divorce involves loss which includes financially, possibly resulting in a few activities having to be eliminated.

The stages of grief, according Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote the classic book On Death and Dying, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. At first, youngsters can be in shock hearing the divorce news, especially when a couple drifted apart without a flaming row. Give them some space and a little time to absorb this new situation. The kids need time to process their emotions and realize what aspects of their lives will remain unchanged. It helps to have them talk to a neutral third party, especially when in denial, thinking the separation will blow over and their parents will be getting back together. Children may be in denial because the future looks uncertain. Having a divorce book for children, such as Soila Sindiyo’s When Love is Broken can be reassuring.

The kids may be quite angry, act out, or voice the unfairness of it all. Accept that anger is a natural part of the grief cycle, for both parents and offspring. It is how anger is expressed which is important. Going around the house smashing china is not okay, but sparring with a punching bag is. Give the wee ones opportunities to release anger through physical activities. Allow extra playtime in the park or taking up a sport. Venting to a family friend or teacher can be cathartic for the children.

Explain that while the marital relationship is ending, you both will be co-parenting together. It is crucial to let kids know that they are in no way responsible for their parents’ break up. In the bargaining stage, kids may think “If only I do… then my parents will stay together.” Help youngsters not to blame themselves for the divorce and to accept that they cannot fix the marriage. Divorce is happening.

Depression is often defined as anger turned inwards. Children may feel helpless and become depressed. They may experience sadness especially in a prolonged, acrimonious divorce. The kids may hide depression and just go along with the program. If seeming out of sorts, consider having them meet with a professional for at least one session to assess how they are coping. One of my sons was diagnosed with depression during divorce and had therapy to get him through it. He is a jovial fellow now.

Eventually kids come to acceptance in the grief cycle. They realize that divorce is not just dark storm clouds, but also ones with a silver lining. My father remarried a few years after divorce and as an only child, I was delighted to acquire an instant extended family. That was my silver lining. My new grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins treated me as one of the tribe.

There are ways to help kids move through divorce. Plan special outings – such as going to a carnival (my son’s suggestion), an amusement park or playground. We watched comedies, walked in parks, went bowling and had some adventures. My late mum loved traveling, so the boys and I accompanied her on cruises during and post-divorce. There is nothing like the sea air to get one out of the doldrums. See what works out best for your situation, such as taking up a sport together. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage youngsters to express their feelings. It helps people to know that experiencing grief during divorce is normal and life does get better.

Originally published in The Divorce Magazine   thedivorcemagazine.co.uk