The period during which parents go through a separation or divorce can be profoundly challenging for children. Feelings of confusion, sadness, anger, and many other emotions may surge, often all at once.
In conversation with IANSlife, Dr Puneet Dwevedi, Chief of Mental Health and Behavioural Science, and Dr Chandrima Misra Mukherjee, Co-Head and clinical psychologist at Artemis Hospital Gurugram, explain a few ways to help children navigate this tumultuous time.
Emotional Processing Resist Self-blame
First and foremost, understand that your parents' separation is not your fault. While it's natural to wonder if there's something you could have done differently, it's vital to remember that this is a decision made between adults based on their individual and collective experiences.
Your Feelings are Normal
Whatever you're feeling, be it sadness, anger, confusion, or even relief, it's normal. Every child reacts differently to such situations, and there's no 'right' or 'wrong' way to feel. Ignoring or suppressing your emotions may lead to destructive behaviours later on. Instead, acknowledge them, understand them, and find ways to express them healthily. Engage in physical activities, pick up a new hobby, journal your thoughts, or spend time with friends. Consider seeking professional help if feelings become overwhelming.
Construct a Safe Space
Find a comfortable environment where you can reflect and process your feelings. This could be a quiet corner of your room, a park, or even a library. Seek out neutral adults to communicate with. Having someone to talk to, like a grandparent, teacher, school counsellor, or family friend, can provide solace and guidance. They can offer an outside perspective and a listening ear.
Communicate with Your Parents
They're going through their challenges, but it's crucial to express how their separation affects you. Keeping lines of communication open can help all involved.
Conflict Resolution with Parents Resist Taking Sides
Understand that your parents' lived experiences feel overwhelmingly true to them, even when they are in conflict. Listening to one side of the story and taking action or seeking a resolution on that basis is unlikely to bear any fruitful outcomes. Resist the urge that seeks to mediate or resolve. This isn't something you can fix, and attempts to do so are likely to be hurtful experiences for both you and your parents.
This will be an emotionally charged time for all of you. If you feel overwhelmed while acting as an emotional support for your parent(s), it might be essential to set boundaries. Remember that you too are dealing with the separation and need space and support to process your own feelings. You might consider seeking intervention from trusted adults or recommending professional help for your parents.
Maintain Healthy Relationships
Even if you stay with one parent predominantly, find ways to keep a healthy relationship with both. This might include working out visitation schedules or finding shared activities.
Lifestyle Changes, Be Prepared for Change
Divorce often leads to significant lifestyle shifts. Understand that these changes are a part of the process and can be navigated with time and patience. You might have to move to a new home or change schools. Remember, change can be an opportunity for a fresh start. There might be changes in financial dynamics, leading to altered lifestyles. Open conversations with your parents can help set expectations. In time, one or both of your parents may start dating. It can feel strange, but remember, they, too are humans with needs for companionship.
"Dealing with parents' separation is never easy, but with the right approach, resilience, and support, children can not only cope but also thrive in their new realities. Remember, it's okay to seek help and lean on others during this challenging time," concludes Puneet.