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Create calm not chaos for your children

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

Children are often affected by the chaos, uncertainty and insecurity that family separation brings.

They can be witnessing parents arguing a lot, a parent moving out, talk of having to sell the house and daily routines disrupted. This can make children feel very insecure, scared, and anxious about where they will live, why mummy & daddy are mean to each other, whether they will be able to go to the same school. and where will the family dog live.

Children need to feel safe, secure and nurtured in a calm environment so they can thrive. If they are always hypervigilant anticipating the next argument, wondering who is picking them up from school today, which house they will be staying at tonight and sudden changes to their routine, can actually create immense stress & anxiety.

When children feel heightened stress and anxiety it can adversely affect their behaviour. They may become angry, upset, demanding, defiant or withdrawn. According to kidsxpress, there is usually a feeling behind behaviour such as fear, grief, sadness, frustration, abandonment, rejection and so on. Behind every feeling is a need, to belong, to be loved, to be heard, to be considered, or to be nurtured.

As parents, we may be struggling with the behaviour changes in our children as we are not coping with the impact of separation ourselves as we too experience strong emotions, fears, anxiety and uncertainty.

Children look to us as their parents to take control or fix the current family crisis and therefore they need parents to help the family transition and adjust to the new family structure. Parents need to separate how they feel about the breakup and be empowered to create two loving homes, rather than be a victim of circumstance focusing on blame, anger and resentment.

Children living in a home full of conflict, being fought over and used as pawns to punish the ex through gatekeeping can make them feel they are caught in the middle of warring parents. Gatekeeping is wielding the power of allocating some or no time with the child to the other parent. They may withhold information regarding the child’s special events at school or sports resulting in the child asking the other parent why they weren’t there. The child can think the other parent didn’t come to the event as they weren’t interested in attending which impacts the child’s emotional self-esteem and self-worth as they feel rejected and abandoned.

Separation is the time when children need parents to be good roles and put the children first, above their own needs and wants. Parents have a responsibility to their children and children have

rights to a meaningful relationship with both parents.

So how do you go about creating calm for your children?

Think how your behaviour is impacting the children. Let’s face it, we can all be ugly during separation as our fight, flight, freeze survival instinct kicks in as we feel under threat. It’s important not to triangulate the kids into your conflict with your ex. Ensure that any issues you want to discuss with your ex occurs when the kids are not in earshot.

Don’t bad mouth the other parent to the kids trying to establish an alliance between you and the kids against the other parent. Your children are half you, and half your ex, so don’t make them reject half of themselves.

Ensure they have a consistent routine where they know which days, they are with you and which days they are with the other parent and avoid chopping and changing those days as this creates uncertainty and instability.

Enable the children to love the other parent and have a meaningful relationship with them. When they come back to you, genuinely ask if they had a nice time and let them open up about fun activities, they did without them feeling guilty that it may upset you. It is more important to have your children being happy in both households rather than being worried that you may get angry when the other parent is mentioned.

Keeping conversations respectful between you and the ex, especially in front of the children as they look to you as role models in teaching them how to be respectful even during difficult times. Your children will take your lead, so if you are ranting and raving at the ex, your children will learn your behaviour for how they speak to you as parents as well as future relationships they have when they grow up. Raise nice kids, by being a nice adult. Remember they watch and learn from you.

Self-care is so important as this will help you be at your best. We are all niggly, irritable and grumpy if we are tired, under stress or had a hard day at work. Ensure that you are eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep. At the dinner table share a positive that happened in your day with them and get them to do the same. This fosters a positive mindset.

Author - Cheryl Duffy, Divorce & Conflict Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator and Parenting Coordinator.

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