One of the most difficult storms a child can face in life is divorce. Common emotions experienced are powerlessness, shame, anger, fear, anxiety, insecurity, confusion, sadness and sometimes even relief. The support you offer to your friend’s kids as they go through this tempest can be priceless. Here are some ideas for offering helpful connection and empathy for your friend’s kids during this difficult time.
- Keep It Real. Sometimes in our effort to help kids feel better, we tell them what to think or feel, for instance, telling them that divorce is not their fault. While this is an important truth, they may need to have conversation more than persuasion to help them get this from their heads to their hearts. A thoughtful prediction such as, “I am wondering if you think you did anything to cause the divorce,” may be helpful. Imagine their relief when they hear you put words to what they may be afraid to voice. By predicting we are saying, “No need to pretend here. We can talk about what’s real and hard.” It also communicates that you are willing to ask them good questions, listen and talk things through.
- Keep It Respectful. Keep your comments about both parents respectful. Take the high road remembering that your friend’s kids need to maintain relationships with both parents. If the child complains about either parent, rather than joining in, offer empathy. For example, if a child is criticizing her parent because he or she didn’t come to her soccer game, you can empathize by saying, “I’m really sorry that your parent didn’t make it. I know it means a lot for you to have them see you play and I bet that is really disappointing to you.” You can join with the child’s feelings without joining with criticism towards the parents.
- Keep It Reassuring. When you listen and offer empathy, you lay the groundwork for generous reassurance. Divorce can create strong feelings of unworthiness and loneliness. Nothing makes a child feel better than to see you consistently show up with delight in your eyes and words that communicate: “You are not alone in this. The way you feel right now is normal. I’m staying on this journey with you. We are going to make it through this. There are better days ahead.” Maintaining a sense of hope and connection will be two of the most valuable possessions for a child to have while they are navigating their parent’s divorce.
- Keep It Recreational. These conversations are caught, not taught and will happen in the midst of quality time spent together. Kids are most likely to talk with a ball in their hands, a game on the table or a crayon at their fingertips. You may find that they can better express themselves with music, poetry, art or toys. Creativity and play create a sense of worthiness and movement helps words flow. Most of all, time spent in their world will communicate care, enjoyment and security.
The clouds of divorce can be dark and tumultuous. The child who has a friend like you to come along side and listen, empathize, reassure and play has found a precious silver lining.