If you’re a parent who’s gone through a divorce, your child’s life has been shaken to the core. Your son or daughter may experience great fear regarding the future, and may express his feelings in a variety of ways, such as anger or clinginess.
“Whatever your child’s outward reaction, you can bet that the departure of a parent and/or the addition of a stepparent to the family environment will provoke a major mental and emotional response,” Dr. Phil says. “Your job is to manage that reaction in as constructive and as rehabilitative a way as possible.”
Remarriage also brings with it an explosion of stress-inducing newness with new stepsiblings, new rules and new demands, and these demands and stressors accentuate the needs of a child.
In his book Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family, Dr. Phil explains that your child’s psychological needs are greatly increased during and after divorce. In the video above, he gives a brief look at what he says are the most profound needs of children in nontraditional families:
Acceptance: This will be your child's greatest need because his or her self-concept is likely in a fragile and formative stage, especially if he or she is at a young age. They need to know that they have acceptance from both of the parents. Children will try to gain approval and "membership" since their sense of belongingness to your family has been shattered.
Assurance of Safety: Parents need to go beyond normal efforts to assure children that though their family has fragmented, the protection it always provided remains solid. Actions speak louder than words, so they key is maintaining a normal pace, boundaries and routines in your home.
Freedom from Guilt or Blame: Children often shoulder the blame for the dissolution of a marriage. They need to know that fighting or any problems that arise are not their fault. Be conscious of this and assure your children they're blameless.
Structure: With the loss of a family leader, either a mother or father, from the home, children will check and test for structure. Give it to them in spades. This is the worst time to break patterns. Children need to see that the world keeps spinning around, and they're still an integral part of what's going on.
A Stable Parent Who Has the Strength to Conduct Business: You should do everything possible to assure your children of your strength — your capacity to take care of them. In doing so, you make it possible for them to relax again. Show yourself to be a person of strength and resilience.
Let Kids be Kids: Your children should not be given the job of healing your pain. There are two primary rules you must follow, especially in crisis and during times of instability in your family:
1. Don't burden your children with situations they cannot control. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their own abilities.
2. Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children aren't equipped to understand adult problems. Their focus should be on navigating the various childhood development stages they go through.
Adapted from chapter 2 of Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family.
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