Every parent going through a divorce wants to minimize the emotional pain and struggle for their children. The challenge is recognizing that your child is suffering and then knowing what to do. Suzy Yehl Marta, an expert on children going through a divorce, offers some advice.
Suzy, a divorced mother of three boys, gave up the security of her three jobs to do something she knew in her heart had to be done for our youth who were grieving a life-changing loss. She established Rainbows, now the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated solely to helping families cope with loss. Over the last 27 years, Rainbows has served nearly 2.5 million youth throughout Canada, the United States and 17 countries. Suzy has conducted 100+ media interviews and her book, Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope, was published to help guide youth through times of divorce, death or crisis. For more information about Rainbows go to their Canadian website www.Rainbows.ca or the US site www.Rainbows.org.
Suzy has answered some questions about how to support your children through your divorce.
1. If a child’s performance at school begins to suffer, how can a parent best deal with this? How can it be prevented in the first place?
The school is a great resource for parents and too many are embarrassed to reach out and ask for help. Discussing the divorce with the child’s classroom teacher and school counselor will help create a safety net when a parent is not around. As a result, parents will be informed on how their child is doing academically and socially. Undoubtedly, your child will be hurting from the family changes and it will show up in school, but over time and with support, the child will incorporate the changes into their life. It is extremely helpful if kids have structured opportunities to talk with other kids who are experiencing the same changes in their families. A program like Rainbows offers support groups for kids in their communities at no cost to the family.
2. What are the main behavioral issues children going through a divorce may exhibit? How can these be identified quickly and be dealt with?
Denial, anger, confusion and fear are the main causes of behavioral issues. Each child has a different story and relationship with divorce and we can’t assume that each child will respond in a similar pattern. Behavioral issues can range from drop in grades, being alone more often, or withdrawing from friends, sports and activities that they were involved in earlier. Some kids do not want to sleep alone, they are clingy or their appetite might change. Teens and young adults with built-up grief might turn to drugs and alcohol to temporarily forget the reality of the divorce. If these changes become extreme or long lasting, the parent is wise to seek out a counselor who understands grief and the impact of divorce on kids A parent must take the time to work through their own grief, but also make sure that their children have a program to turn to like Rainbows, where support and love is still given. Compassion and willingness to make time for a child are the two most critical elements of helping a grieving child. The divorce of one’s parents is woven into each child’s personal history. While the divorce may be the best decision for the health of the family, it takes a long time for the children to recover. Parents need to have patience and understand that divorce impacts their children twice as much as their mom and dad. When the divorce takes place, not only does one parent move out, but both parents change and often remarry which creates even more change for the kids.
3. Other insights/advice on the subject?
Each parent has the power to add to their children’s lives and can help them develop into the best adults possible. As a parent, no matter what the situation is, it is critical to be dependable; children will begin to feel comfortable enough to talk to a parent about the most important decisions. Life will never be perfect and there many things that parents can’t predict or control, but that does not mean that a parent cannot instill a wonderful life for their child. Spending quiet time with each child every day will continue to make the relationship stronger. The parent should listen without judgment, letting the child feel the care
4. How can a parent help his/her child’s best friend during a divorce?
The best way to help a child’s best friend is through compassion for the family. All too often, divorcing parents and their kids are shunned. Reaching out to the parents and offering assistance helps them realize they are not alone. Also, inviting the little friend over to spend time with your child and family from time to time can give the parents alone time to process their own grief, while taking stress away from the child. If the relationship with the child is close, asking how they are doing or setting time aside to listen is appropriate. What the child usually needs is the continued friendship of your son or daughter, a fun place to hang out, and perhaps an adult they can trust and turn to if the need arises.
Thanks so much to Suzy for her insight and thoughts. I fully support the work of Rainbows and in fact, I am presently serving on the Board of Directors of Rainbows Canada. All children whose children are divorcing can benefit from Rainbows.