Divorce is hard on everyone involved. Parents often fear that their divorce will do irreparable harm to their children. While studies have shown many adverse effects of divorce on offspring, there are things you can do to lesson those effects and help your children cope better.
Even in ideal circumstances, the teenage years can be hard. The following tips can help you help your teenager navigate this difficult transition.
1. Allow your child to speak about and process their feelings.
Remember that even though teenagers can appear very mature and stoic in the face of adversity, their feelings run deep. The best way to deal with feelings is to acknowledge them and fully feel them. For this reason, allowing your teen to talk and process their feelings about the divorce is crucial. Even though it may be painful to hear, be open and let your teen know they can talk to you about what they are feeling. Try your best not to meet their feelings with judgment or defensiveness. If your teen will not open up to you, see if another trusted adult in the child’s life can fill this role. If not, consider finding a qualified therapist who is skilled in compassionate counseling for your child. Whatever way you can find to give your child an avenue to be honest about their experience with a trusted adult, do it.
2. Do things with your teenager that are purely enjoyable.
Divorce is scary for children partly because they wonder if you will still love them in the same way. They may wonder consciously or subconsciously if they are still your priority. Most likely, you are feeling a lot of stress and may find it hard to schedule a block of hours to just hang out with your teen, but know that this can be crucial to their trust in you as their parent. So make it a priority. Do something with them one on one that they enjoy. It could be playing video games with them, going on a hike or whatever they want. Let them know that the things that bring them joy are important to you. Give both of you a break from fear and worry about the future. Try to create an environment where you can laugh together. This will bring a sense of normalcy and stability to your teen in this turbulent time.
3. Allow your teen to still be a teen.
The teenage years are very important for identity development. It is healthy for teens to spend some time away from family with friends. Sometimes after a divorce your teenager has extra responsibilities. For example, you may need someone to watch their younger siblings more often. While it is o.k. to ask your teen to help in these ways, remember that you need to take their schedule into account. If they are interested in participating in an after school sport or activity, try your best to make arrangements so that they can do that. If they want to hang out with their friends a couple of times a week, see if you can get someone else to watch their siblings. Allow them to have some time that is free of responsibility so they can do whatever they want. This will increase their sense of independence and prevent possible resentments toward you and the situation.
4. Respect that your ex is still their parent.
The bond between a child and their parent is like nothing else. Even if your teen has feelings of anger toward their other parent, know that they still love that parent. Do your best not to talk badly about the other parent in front of them. Emotional processing is also important for you, but find another adult that you can talk to if you need to vent. Try not to change the way you communicate about the other parent. If you referred to them as “Dad” or “Mom” to your teen before the divorce, continue to do that. Adopting colder terms like, “Your mother” and “Your father” can be upsetting. Try your best to be respectful in your communication with and about the other parent.
In the end, adversity of any type can build character and resilience. If you are intentional in the way you help your teen through divorce, you increase the chances of good outcomes for him or her.