In a high conflict divorce, the children may be trying to stay neutral while the rest of the people are choosing sides. The battle lines are drawn and the war has begun, with the children sometimes being caught in the crossfire. The youngsters witness atrocious behavior from parents and supposedly mutual friends.
Children can get Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), eating disorders and other mental health issues in response to this overwhelming adult situation. Kids may start wetting the bed or regress to more infantile behavior as a cry for help. When parents are in survival mode or battling for winner-take-all, children can get lost in this drama. Here are eight ways to help your kids get through this ordeal unscathed:
1. Therapy. In an acrimonious divorce have the children meet with a children’s divorce coach or a therapist. Kids may seem like they are coping well, but much may be hidden under the surface which needs to be released. At least have them periodically check in with a neutral adult who can assess if more assistance is needed. The interim child psychologist in our collaborative divorce met with our sons to see if a therapist was required. Yes, they needed to talk, and one was promptly hired.
2. Zip it. Muzzle your friends. Your pals want to support you, but doing this in front of the kids can be upsetting. My son’s godmother kept bringing up my divorce and my efforts to change the subject were not effective. After my son told her several times that he did not want to hear about the divorce, that message finally got through to her. Remind friends not to discuss the other parent in front of the kids too.
3. Stop bad-mouthing your ex. Do not talk about your spouse at all to the kids. Do not say anything, even if you think it is positive. You may not realize that your tone of voice is betraying how you really feel about him. I would listen for one minute to my kids talk about their father and then suggest that they discuss him further with the therapist.
4. Take time out. It is okay for you to have a time out when you feel overwhelmed and need to be alone for a few minutes. Put a baby in a secure place, such as a playpen and enjoy that cup of tea. Tell older ones to stay in their room for a little while and you will be in yours. Sometimes one feels like she is going to lose it in a high conflict divorce situation and needs time to meditate or regroup. Bach’s Rescue Remedy was a life saver for my sons (during visitation) and me (in divorce sessions).
5. Have fun. Build fun into your schedule. In the midst of my horrendous divorce, my sons and I went to the circus, an amusement park, had picnics and did other relaxing pursuits. Laughter is a stress buster so watching comedies was crucial for us.
6. Plan getaways. Remove your kids from the war zone and allow them to have some adventures. Going to a camp with buddies for several weeks can be just the antidote to their stress. Visiting their grandparents in Florida can be relaxing. Maybe they would like to go on sleepovers at their friends’ houses during this time. My sons, mother and I went on a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands in the middle of my toxic divorce. We came back happy, calm and ready to get through this life transition. Even going away for a weekend can do wonders.
7. Comfort. Give your kids extra attention, unconditional love and cuddles during this stressful time. Do not voice your fears to your kids, “we may lose the house…”, but rather say “we will get through this okay.”
8. Garner support. Tell important adults in your children’s lives that their parents are going through a divorce so they can support them, and keep an eye on them too. If there are changes or some red flags, then these adults can bring it to your attention so help can be given.
Children can adapt to this change in their lives with some support from others. Do not confide in your kids, but rather save that for girlfriends. Make sure the kids are not caught in a parental tug-of-war. Let kids know that you are okay, so that they do not worry about you when with the other parent. I shared my mantra with my sons, “This too shall pass.”
Are you involved in a high conflict divorce?
- 7 Secrets To Co-parenting With A Difficult Ex
- High Conflict Divorce And Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- How to Respond When Divorce Brings Out The “Angries” In Him
- Great Expectations, Trust & The Irrational During Divorce