• Tips and advice to actively deal with divorce

  • An unhappy marriage can make parenting  and life in general  stressful. The loss of the family structure can be very upsetting and distressing for everyone involved in this major change.

    Despite divorce being on the increase around the world, parents often feel at a loss when searching for practical support. They also feel overwhelmed, confused, afraid, resentful, or completely frozen in panic about how to handle the changes in their family's way of life.

    Sometimes this fear manifests itself as animosity, which turns the whole divorce process into a battle, with children trapped in the middle and feeling powerless.

    Divorce needn't be like this. Parents can make positive, healthy choices during this very emotional time and make the transition less painful for everyone.

    Divorce isn't about losers and winners. It's about working out a way to handle the separation with dignity and compassion and minimising the disruption to your children emotionally. This article offers numerous approaches and strategies for making the experience of divorce as positive and healthy as possible.

    Presenting a united front: Telling the kids

    I've worked with many parents going through divorce and one of the main worries is how to tell their children about what is going to happen and what to actually say to them.

    Children naturally fear that they'll lose one of their parents in divorce or that their parents will abandon them. They also fear the changes and disruptions that divorce inevitably brings to their family. Children often blame themselves.

    When a marriage becomes troubled, a couple often relies on old habits of interacting, which lead to fights rather than solutions. If those old habits didn't lead to constructive solutions during the marriage, they'll surely reap no better results during the divorce. You may not have been a united front while married, but you and your partner must take this opportunity – for the good of your children – to work together.

    The following sections cover various activities I lead parents through to help them and their children cope with divorce.

    Critical question

    One of the let things I ask parents to do is to work out together the answer to this critical question: What are the key messages you want to convey to your children? Consider:

    - Your child's need to feel reassured that you will both always be his parents and be there to support, nurture, guide, and love him.

    - Your child's need to express himself and his feelings – this may include silence,anger, denial, bravado, or pleading.

    - You need to weigh up whether each parent tells each child separately, or all together. If you can manage to speak to them together, this gives and opportunity for them to see that you're not blaming each other, that they don't have to take sides, and that you're both still there for them.

    - Think about the sort of questions your children are likely to ask. ‘Will we still see you and spend time with you?' ‘Who will take us to football training?' ‘Who will we live with and where will we live?' ‘Will we have to change school?' ‘Will we still see Grandma?' You need to explain that at the moment you don't have all the answers but reassure them that you'll have more clarity and answers soon and they don't need to worry.Tips and advice to actively deal with divorce

    From your child's perspective

    I ask parents to place a piece of paper on the floor, step onto it, and imagine they're looking at the situation from the eyes of their child. I then ask them to answer the following questions as if they were their child:

    - What do you see and hear around you at the moment? - How do you feel?

    How could Mum and Dad make you feel better? What could they do or say?

    Reassurances and guarantees

    I ask parents to write seven reassurances and guarantees that they can honestly give to their child in a graphic wheel. The reassurances and guarantees are things that will help their child cope with the enormous changes that are coming.

    Be honest – don't hedge around the difficulties. Don't give false promises that you can't keep because you destroy their confidence and belief in you at a critical time in your relationship. Give them information but not too much – give details of things in the not-too-distant future.

    Working together

    I also help divorcing parents develop some co-parenting strategies. For example:

    - Plan and agree on what both parents will say before they talk to their children. This helps to avoid mixed messages, which can confuse and really distress children.

    - Look at the benefits of telling the children together or individually.

    - Work on overcoming the ‘blame' mentally and the feeling that the divorce must be someone's fault. - Look for ways to avoid making children feel that they must take sides.

    - Try to take the emotional charge out of telling the children

    - Help each parent gain more control over his or her distressing feelings and emotions during this difficult moment.

    I think it's helpful to remember that divorce changes – but it does not end – a family. Your children are now members of two unique and individual families with all the positive experiences that this can also bring to their lives. It's about your positive and confident handling of the situation that will make all the difference.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sue Atkins is a Parent Coach and Author of "Raising Happy Children for Dummies" one in the famous black and yellow series. She has written many books on self esteem, toddlers and teenagers and has a collection of Confident Parent CD's available from her website including "Handling Divorce Positively." To find out more about her work and to receive her free monthly newsletter packed full of practical tips and helpful advice for bringing up happy, confident, well-balance children go to => http://www.positive-parents.com
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