Are you going through a divorce and have teenagers you need to support? Here are 10 tips to help your teen through a divorce, from divorce mediation specialist, Ian Shann, from Move On Mediation.
Listen to them
One advantage of having teenagers when going through a divorce is that they are old and mature enough to express what they think. Listen to them; not just to their words but their body language and behaviour too. Before you can begin to comfort and support them during this difficult time, you need to know exactly how they are feeling and that will vary with each child’s age, maturity, and personality.
Some teenagers may not be ready to talk or express their feelings straight away. That, too, is a sure indication that they are battling with their emotions and need encouragement and empathy for them to open up.
Others may be more willing to talk to an outsider, like a teacher, close relative or friend, rather than to you as a parent. That’s okay too. Some teenagers will struggle to accept or adjust to the changes in their lives but, if they were exposed to conflict or violence in the past, they might also be relieved that their ordeal is finally over.
Answer their questions
Answer all their questions, without divulging any gory details or who is to blame, and, most importantly, make them understand that it was not their fault. Be prepared for the obvious questions, such as “Who is moving out and who is staying? With whom will we be living? When can I see my mom/dad? Will we have to go to a new school? Can we still see our friends?”. They will want to know what will change in their lives and, even more importantly, what will not.
Once these basic questions are answered, both parents need to give them time and space to process it all and encourage them to discuss any concern or possible solution they may have. Make them feel that they have a say in what happens in their lives.
Allow them to grieve
Before acceptance can set in, we all need time to grieve. You may have already worked through that phase, and now it’s their turn. They may not react or grieve in the same manner or pace, so give them as much time and space as they need. They may show anger, sadness, hurt and disappointment. It’s all perfectly normal. When they are through it, you will know.
The first sign that the grieving may be over, is when their questions start pouring out. Now it’s time for reassurance. By addressing all their concerns, answering their questions, and pointing out what will remain the same, kids will begin to feel reassured. By spending time together and allowing them time to be with their friends and living a normal life as possible, their grief will slowly turn to hope that you will all get through this.
Shield them from conflict
Shielding the children from conflict and negativity will ease the strain and speed up the healing process. Agree with your ex not to discuss contentious issues in front of the children and never vent your frustration in their presence. If you must vent, do it with someone else when the kids are not around.
Don’t badmouth your ex
Badmouthing or blaming your ex in front of your kids only adds to the stress they are already feeling, as it places them in the middle of your squabbles, compelling them to take sides. All kids need to have a healthy relationship with both parents and trying to alienate them from your ex may backfire on you someday.
Remaining civil with your ex for the sake of the children may help you to establish a normal relationship with them, which can only be beneficial to the entire family.
Establish a routine
Kids thrive best when there is a set routine in their lives.
Establish a routine that is as close and familiar to what they were accustomed to before. Try to do the same special things you did together that will enable them to adjust to the new life as painlessly as possible. Whatever the routine, it should be consistent and include schooling issues, sports activities and socialising with their friends.
Ensure they have a relationship with both parents
Healthy children, need to have healthy relationships with both parents, no matter what. Assuming there is no threat of abuse, both parents need to encourage the children to spend as much time with the other parent as far as possible. You are both responsible for their care and overall wellbeing.
Parent as a team
Parenting as a team means that both parents need to set the same routines, rules and discipline in both households as much as possible. When children become accustomed to a set lifestyle and routine it reduces the level of stress and anxiety helping them to adapt to the changes in their lives.
Seek professional help
None of the above is easy to apply, as both parents are also struggling with their emotions while adjusting to their new lives too. Take care of your needs to help you cope, and seek support from your family and friends. If you’re still finding it difficult to cope, do not hesitate to seek professional help.
Ian Shann is the principal mediator and director of Move On Mediation in Perth.
Move On offers affordable and effective divorce and family mediation in Perth for separating couples.
Ian’s commitment is simple – to help keep separated couples out of the Family Court and minimise their need for lawyers, saving them time, money and anguish.
Under Ian’s guidance, separated couples are able to Move On with their lives through amicable divorce mediation.