Relationships go through ups and downs. No matter how strong your marriage, there will be moments of tension, disagreements, and hard times. During those rocky times, it’s important children understand they’re not responsible for the conflict between you and your spouse.
In many cases, these little disagreements can smooth over once tempers cool. However, in other situations, the damage to relationship may be difficult to repair. Help your children cope with these moments by making sure they understand what is happening is not their fault and both parents still love them.
As you navigate through this difficult time, provide your children with structure, routines, and stability to help them feel more in control of the situation. Because things are changing, children may feel like their world is being pulled out from under them, and by keeping to the rules, rewards, and discipline will help them adjust.
While helping your children understand and cope with the situation, remember they don’t need to know about all the particulars. Instead, here are 5 tips to keep in mind while talking with your children.
1. KEEP THE NASTY COMMENTS TO YOURSELF Talking negatively about your spouse, especially when angry, is tempting and easy to do. However, these comments are destructive and may end up damaging your relationship with your child. Take a moment to set clear boundaries with your spouse (and in-laws) to ensure they understand that defaming each other in front of the children is not allowed. If the situation escalates between you and your spouse, this is a good rule to have established for everyone involved.
2. DON'T MAKE PROMISES YOU CAN'T KEEP When trying to help children adjust to the changes taking place around them, reassuring your children that everything will be okay is a natural reaction. No matter how much you want to believe that, or want your children to believe, some things may be unpredictable (i.e. your spouse moving out). Instead, be honest (age appropriately) with your children that things may never be as they once were but that doesn’t mean they’re loved any less.
3. PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES Children, at various ages, have different ways of handling change and difficult situations. This is a scary time for them and it’s important to take a moment and put yourself in their point of view. Think back to when you were their age, what would you want to know? What would you need from your parents at that age? Do this for each child you have, since every child is unique and handles things differently.
4. UNDERSTAND THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE QUESTIONS For the most part, children are going to have questions. Let them know you’re there for them by allowing them to ask their questions, encourage them to keep the communication lines open, and reinforce they’re still part of the family. When there is a lot of change going on, children may not know where they stand in the family. Because children react to change differently, be mindful of responses like, “I’m fine,” “I don’t care,” or I’m not interested,” as these responses may not be true.
5. ENCOURAGE THEM TO EXPRESS THEIR FEELINGS Expressing their feelings can be hard for children. Talk to them and encourage them to share their feeling during this time and really listen to what they’re saying. You may be surprised to discover you hadn’t anticipated what they are feeling and will need to talk. While you listen to them, remember you may not be able to fix the problem or take their sadness away, but by acknowledging their feelings, and what they are going through, you will show them you care. Also, pay attention to their moods and how they’re behaving as that can give you insights into how they are coping.
Marriages can hit some bumpy roads and challenges. Remember, while helping your children to adjust to the situation, to take time for yourself too. Set aside some time to write in a journal, talk with close friends, and find a support group or therapist where you can vent and share your frustrations. You never want to express your feelings with your children and will need an outlet to do so. This is why it’s critical for you to have someone to talk to and help you during this time.