You’re getting a divorce. Not only do you have to deal with your own emotions about this situation, but you have to help your teen cope with your divorce too. This is one of the hardest parts about the whole thing. As much as you want to shield your teen from the hurt and emotions of the divorce, she’ll feel it too. She likely blames herself for at least part of the issue, even though you reassure her it’s not her fault at all. There are a few things you can do to help your teen cope with your divorce and the transition into her new life and role.
1. Talk…and Listen
Don’t treat your teen like he’s fragile or doesn’t know what’s going on. He does. Kids see and hear a lot more than we ever want to give them credit for. Instead, listen to what he has to say. Let him express his feelings openly and honestly as this will help your teen cope with your divorce. However, keep your responses short, simple and to the point. Don’t talk badly about your ex, but answer questions as honestly as possible. If you’re not comfortable answering a certain question, don’t. But let your child know that. Never undermine his intelligence by telling him he’s wrong or just doesn’t understand. He’s in turmoil as well, dealing with his own emotions and trying to figure out how to navigate between you and your ex.
2. Hold Your Tongue
Never talk badly about your ex in front of your child. Even if your ex is a complete jerk, let your teen make up her own mind. Don’t even agree with her, just let her feel how she feels. She’s old enough to make up her own mind, rather you agree with her or not. This will help your teen cope with your divorce. Don’t even talk about the situation with friends or family when your teen is in the next room. She’s listening. She’s not divorcing either of you, so don’t make her choose. That will add unnecessary pressure on her and make you look like a villain.
3. Try Something New
Do something new with your teen. Learn how to play chess together, play basketball at the park, go paint-balling, or venture into his favorite video game with him. Quality time to show that you’re there for him is more important than ever. Finding a new hobby to try something together will be better than joining into something he already does, and it’ll help him feel connected to you throughout this difficult and painful time.
4. Give Her Space
One of the best ways to help your teen cope with your divorce is t let her feel and think what she wants by giving her the space to do so. However, watch that she doesn’t completely alienate herself from the world. Let her spend more time with friends, especially if that friend’s family welcomes her into their home. You might feel like she’s trying to avoid you, but it might feel safer to her to be in a home where things are “normal” and the way she’s accustomed. Divorce is a big change, even if you stay in the same home.
5. Professional Help
Seek professional help immediately if you notice your teen is severely depressed or acting out in harmful ways, such as abusing drugs, alcohol, bullying, cutting, or other major behavioral changes. That may be a cry for help. If he seems OK, you can still provide hotline numbers or let him know you’ll help him talk to someone if he needs to. You may direct him to Safe Teens in order to help your teen cope with your divorce. Let him make that call if his behavior hasn’t changed and he seems to be adjusting well. Sometimes talking to someone who didn’t know you before and isn’t emotionally involved can be helpful.
Reassure your teen that you love her and still have her best interest at heart. She needs that reassurance. Even if she doesn’t express it or show it, just knowing you’re there is a big deal. If you and your ex cam come together to talk to her together and reassure her that the divorce is not her fault, do that. But don’t harp on it too much. She may feel that way anyway.