During and after divorce your children may be hyper-sensitive about many things. What may have formerly been routine conversations, questions or activities can now be touchy subjects fraught with anxiety, resentment or ager. This is understandable when you consider that the stability of the world they knew has been dramatically altered. Minor insecurities can easily grow into major problems. Children may regress in their behaviors and skills, become more clinging – or more aloof – depending on their adaptability and perspective about the divorce.
This is a time to master the art of good parent/child communication so you can reinforce or rebuild trust, security and confidence that things will be okay again – despite the changes inflicted by your divorce.
Here are some solid tips for more effective communication with your children. Master them today and they will work on your behalf for years and years ahead.
- Keep your conversations private – at times when others are not around. This assures a more relaxed connection, more intimacy and safety. Your child is more likely to open up and confide their real feelings when they know they have your full attention. That means close the computer, put down the phone, turn off the TV and let your child know you are interested in what they are feeling and saying.
- Listen carefully to get the gist of what they are saying, even if you don’t like the message. Don’t interrupt or correct them as they speak. You’ll have your turn, but if they don’t feel “heard” you are likely not going to have another chance at real communication. Here’s where “active listening” skills are a real plus: paraphrase back what you think you’ve heard, look directly at them, and nod your head to show you’re listening. Then ask if you got the message right after you’ve repeated it.
- Focus more on what happened rather than “why.” Allow the entire story to be told or all their feelings to be shared without jumping to judgment. You can still parent, explain your values, and support your decisions while not minimizing your child’s right to their own “take” on things. Also remind your child that they are loved and accepted, despite what they think or have done. You can reject the behavior without rejecting the child.
- Avoid the lectures, the smug ”I told you so’s,” the moralizing put-downs or other forms of embarrassing your children, especially if others are around. Instead offer constructive ways to remedy the situation when possible. Brainstorm together. Remind your child that not all challenges can be neatly resolved or agreed upon by all parties. This can be a valuable life-lesson for them shared with empathy, compassion and insight. Never put down your child’s other parent, as tempting as it may be. This only serves to hurt, confuse or anger your child, not a good strategy for optimizing effective communication.
While it’s often easier to provide negative feedback, try to end your communication in a positive tone. This will encourage additional conversations and their willingness to confide in you again when things are not going well. Find something you can praise in their behavior or their communication so they feel valued and significant. Remember, divorce imposes changes within the family that your children never asked for. With these thoughts in mind you’ll deepen your relationship with your children at a time when they need it most!
*** *** ***
Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, is a Divorce & Parenting Mentor, Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children — with Love! For Rosalind’s free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies For Getting It Right!, her coaching services and valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, go to: //www.childcentereddivorce.com.