Many parents contact me to help them rebuild their family unit after a divorce occurs. The truth is, families should be contacting me while the divorce is occurring because that is when most of the “trauma” takes place. It is also the time when an intervention can take place.
Divorce is extremely difficult for a child to understand and cope with. Many young children often report that their “world is falling apart.” It really is if you think about it. Their emotional safety is at risk and they wonder, “Where will I live? Who will take care of me? Do mom and dad still love me? Is this my fault?” These are only a few questions that go through children’s minds during this emotional time.
As you move through your own emotional rollercoaster with the divorce, slow down for a minute and focus your attention where it belongs — on your children. When we don’t, both our own and our children’s emotional stability are at risk. As children begin to slip away, your role as a parent to comfort them becomes much harder.
Anger is an overwhelming and powerful emotion. Often times it clouds our thinking, especially when a marriage is breaking up. Trust me when I say that as much as you think you are hiding your feelings towards your spouse from your kids, they “sense it happening.”
Last week in a session with a family, I asked a 9-year-old child, “If I could grant you three wishes, what would they be?”
She did not wish for a new computer, clothes, or an IPod. She stated, “I noticed that my mom and dad do not say ‘I love you’ to each other anymore. I wish they would do this more.” Our children know and feel what we are experiencing but they often do not say it.
As you all know, I am a firm believer in talking and being honest with children. I practice this with my own children and it has made a significant and positive impact on their emotional well being. My son is able to express his feelings openly and honestly with me when he is upset. Am I tooting my horn and saying, “I am the best parent in the world? No, I am simply trying to share with you what has worked for me.
Ann Landers once said, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” I love and believe that quote because it can apply to so many aspects of our children’s lives.
If you are going through a divorce and you are struggling with how to talk to your children about this, begin by “talking” to them. Teach them that it is (1) okay to be upset about what is going on; (2) give them a voice to come to you when they are upset; (3) share with them that you are upset that this is happening (if that is true); (4) do not keep secrets from them this is not protective; it is destructive; and (5) take care of yourself in the process.
Teach your children that, “Things happen in life that we do not expect but we have the TOOLS to move through them! Be your children’s tool!
When you are getting divorced, you must put your children first. As you move through your own emotional rollercoaster with the divorce, slow down for a minute and focus your attention where it belongs — on your children. When we don’t, both our own and our children’s emotional stability are at risk.
Dr. Sue Cornbluth is a National Expert in parenting and childhood trauma. She is also the parenting contributor to NBC News in Philadephia, Pa.
You can connect with her at