By Matthew Nordin, MSW Intern
Going through a divorce or the breakup of a long-term relationship can be excruciating when you have children. For weeks or months – perhaps years – you’ve tried to shield them from all the negativity as you and your partner considered going your separate ways. Or maybe your partner just sprang this on you and you’re in shock.
So how do you protect your kids emotionally?
Just like any other life event, you’ll want to offer details about the divorce in an age-appropriate way. Psychologist Lisa Herrick says it’s crucial not to blame your partner. You also want to emphasize to your kids that they played no part in your decision to split-up.
Let your kids know that they can come to you anytime with questions or to talk about their feelings.
As Herrick points out, kids may go through a range of emotions as the reality of one parent moving out sets-in, writing: “…we all will feel sad, angry, worried, and maybe curious about the future — all feelings are normal – parents welcome listening to all feelings and will try to help the children no matter how they feel.”
It’s also natural for kids to feel anxious when going through a divorce. They may even tell you sometimes their tummy hurts.
Something that may help them – and you – is called soft belly breathing. Think of it this way: You don’t want your belly to be tense. Not much air can get through. And that makes you feel even more anxious. Instead, you want your belly to be soft. When your belly is soft, it relaxes – and then the rest of your body can relax.
PBS has some great drawings to show kids what we’re talking about.
Some parents may consider buying a pet or a new toy to soften the blow of divorce. But by putting the emphasis on genuine conversation, you deepen your relationship with your kids. And by modeling for them self-soothing routines like soft belly breathing, your kids will pick-up a great life lesson: They don’t always need something/someone from the outside to make them feel better. They can rely on themselves.
Matthew Nordin is a therapist-in-training at Mercy Professional Services in St. Louis and a master of social work student at The Washington University. His supervisor, Michelle Salois, LCSW, approved this article. Michelle may be reached at (314) 993-8818.