When parents go through a divorce, children’s psychological needs greatly increase as they live in the middle of an emotional (and perhaps economic) roller coaster filled with guilt, fear and confusion.
“If you’re in a divorce situation at home, you’ve got to grade your own paper,” Dr. Phil says in the video above. “It’s time to start being a fiduciary for your child, or your children, and put their interests ahead of your own.”
In Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family, Dr. Phil explains the most profound needs of children during this challenging time:
This will be a child's greatest need because their self-concept is very likely in a fragile and formative stage, especially if they are at a young age. They will try to gain approval because their sense of belonging to the family has been shattered. Children also tend to personalize things and blame themselves, which is another reason they need acceptance. Let them know that they are important, that they are a priority.
Assurance of safety
Parents need to go beyond normal efforts to assure their children that although the family has fragmented, their protection is solid. The key is to maintain a normal pace, boundaries and routines. They need to know that their world is predictable and that it's not going to change on them.
Freedom from guilt or blame for the divorce
Children often shoulder the blame for the dissolution of a marriage. They personalize their part in the divorce, so they might think: “If only I didn't make so much noise. If only I didn’t ask for new shoes ..." They may think it’s their fault or that somehow they are being punished for their parents’ breakup. Be conscious of this and assure your children they're blameless.
With the loss of a family leader from the home, children will check and test for structure, so be sure to give it to them. They need structure more than any other time in their lives, because this is when things seem to be falling apart for them. Enforce discipline consistently and with the right currency for good behavior. They need to see that the world keeps going, and they're still an integral part of what's going on.
A stable parent who has the strength to conduct business
Whether or not you feel brave and strong, you have to appear to be the best for your children. They're worried about you and about your partner, especially if there's an apparent crisis. Do everything possible to assure them of your strength, and in doing so, you make it possible for them to relax. Show yourself to be a person of strength and resilience.
Let kids be kids
Children should not be given the job of healing your pain. Too often, children serve either as armor or as saviors for their parents in crisis. They don't need to be dealing with adult issues, and should not know too much about what's going on between you and your ex-spouse.
There are two primary rules to follow, especially during times of crisis and instability in your family:
1. Do not burden your children with situations they cannot control. Children should not bear such a responsibility. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their own strengths and abilities.
2. Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems. Their focus should be on navigating the various child development stages they go through.