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How To Prepare Children For a Divorce

Although Cyprus is a country where family values are a priority and there is an emphasis on the traditional form of the family (mother, father and children, with of course the involvement of grandparents), there has been an increasing number of divorces over the past decade. According to the Statistical Service of the Republic of Cyprus there have been 10,052 divorces from 2000 until 2006. Although the taboo of divorce in Cyprus and the concern of “what will people say” are slowly fading away, it’s regularity does not make it any easier for children to accept. Divorce often carries the same emotional weight for children as a death in the family or another traumatic event. Preparing a child for the realities of a divorce is not an easy process for any parent. The possibilities of leaving behind permanent emotional scars or alienating a child for life are very real, thus parents must prepare children about divorce, be as truthful as possible and follow the following guidelines.

Don’t let your child be caught in the middle of a war

Divorce is difficult on parents and children. Sometimes it’s non-contested and in this case parents calmly agree to end the marriage, without expressing any hostility between them and agree to work together as far as the children are concerned. In other cases, divorce can be bitter and painful especially, for the parent that feels rejected or abandoned. You can easily fall into the trap of trying to make your child an ally when you feel that you haven’t been treated fairly. You must remember that no-matter what, your child loves both parents and the relationship of the child with both parents will not change despite the negative feelings that may develop between the divorced couple. So:

  1. Don’t’ fight with your spouse when your child is around

  2. Don’t say negative things about your spouse to your child or to anyone within hearing distance of your child

  3. Don’t label your spouse as “the bad parent” and you as the “good parent”.

  4. Don’t use your child as a liaison between you and your spouse

  5. Don’t make your child choose sides

  6. Don’t interfere with your child’s relationship with your spouse, despite of what you may feel about him/her

  7. Don’t try to make them take your side by giving them gifts or being overly permissive

  8. Try not to get too emotional about your divorce when your child is around. This may cause them to worry or feel insecure about their future and their ability to create relationships with members of the opposite sex.

  9. Don’t rely on your children to comfort you – the parent should be doing the comforting

  10. Avoid making bid changes in your child’s daily routines. Children, in general don’t like changes and dealing with divorce is hard enough.

  11. Avoid sharing worries and concerns with your child regarding the divorce or your spouse. This puts an emotional strain on them. Try to turn to friends and family members for support.

  12. Don’t make your child the “little man” or the “little woman” of the house. They are children not adults and they cannot replace your spouse.

Agree on what you will say to your child and tell them as a couple.

Talk to your spouse and prepare together on what you will tell the child. Remember that the child loves you both and cannot take sides. Present information as honestly as possible and do not lie. By agreeing on what will be said you avoid possible arguments or contradictions with each other. If you need help deciding what to say to your children don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional.

In some cases, spouses will not be cooperative, which means that the two of you will probably speak to the children separately. Before doing so, for your children’s sake, try to come to an agreement about what exactly you will tell them. You must be able to put aside hostility and anger and present only the facts without blaming, name-calling or giving information that is not necessary and can be harmful. If you don’t, you risk sending them conflicting messages about your divorce you are impacting the child in a negative way.

Be honest, truthful , but don’t give unnecessary details.

Be honest with your children about why you are getting divorced, but in doing so you must keep their ages in mind and avoid giving dramatic details about the divorce. Only tell them as much as they need to know and no more. If your child has already been exposed to fighting and other problems in the marriage you may say something like, “you know that mommy and daddy have been fighting a lot lately and that’s because we don’t agree on a lot of important things and we don’t feel happy together. Sometimes that happens in a marriage and if parents try and can’t work things out it’s better to live separate and be happy than to be together and not be happy and fight all the time. That doesn’t mean that we will stop loving you and caring about you. We will always love you no matter what and that will never change…”

Make sure you emphasize that divorce does not mean that your love for them will change, as presented in the above example, and that they have nothing to do with it nor are they responsible in any way for it. Many times children believe that they did something wrong or that they are not good enough and that’s why daddy or mommy is leaving. It is imperative that you assure them that they bear no responsibility for the divorce

Remind your child that divorce does not mean your love for them will change.

As presented in the above example, you must let them know that although mommy and daddy don’t love each other in a way so as to live together anymore, your love for them will not change. Also point out that they are not responsible for the divorce in any way . Many times children believe that they did something wrong or that they are not good enough and that’s why daddy or mommy is leaving. It is imperative that you assure them that they bear no responsibility for the divorce

Expect anger, hostility and blaming.

Children want their parents to be together and in cases where fighting or hostility was not present before the divorce, children have an even harder time accepting it. There are also cases when one initiates the divorce and the other spouse doesn’t want to separate, and in those cases children may very well get angry and blame the spouse who initiated the divorce for throwing daddy or mommy out of the house. Expect hostility and anger, explain your side to the child, always keeping in mind their age, and consult a mental health professional as to how to react and deal with the child.

Give your child time to adjust.

Divorce is difficult to adjust to, both for adults and even more so for children. Their home life and family picture is suddenly changing and they have no say in it. They feel different from others, they will miss the father or mother figure and they will have to adjust to a new life style which involve not only changes in the home structure but in the way they will have relations with the extended family of the spouse who will no longer live with them. Thus it’s imperative to give your children time to absorb and adjust to all this.

If your child is still having trouble absorbing the news of the divorce:

You may need to be extra supportive, give them more hugs and attention

Consider involving a school counselor, mental health professional, social worker, relative, or another adult who’s especially close to your child. Seeing a child therapist or a play therapist can be extremely helpful.

Inform your child’s teachers, baby-sitters and other caregivers, as well as the parents of their close friends or any other adults they see regularly about your divorce plans. If these individuals can see significant changes in your children’s behavior they can keep you inform and you can then deal with them.

Ask the Social Services Department or your mental Health professional about resources that can help you and your child cope with the divorce. There is also the Single Parents Association in Engomi, Nicosia (22750811) that you can contact for further assistance and guidance.

It would be helpful if divorcing parents attend some paren consultations or seek out therapy in order to learn about children’s reactions to divorce, effective parent-child communication, and resources that can help both them and their children.

Maria Perdikogianni, MA, RPT +357 99 456135

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