When our children are upset or sad, many of us have a difficult time just “being” with them and their pain. We desperately want to fix it somehow or make them feel better. We say, “Don’t cry” or “There are people who have it a lot worse than you do.” We may even try to make them laugh or distract them in other ways. However, failing to acknowledge your kids’ feelings about your divorce and allowing them their full expression is the worst thing you can do. It sends the message that their feelings aren’t important or, even worse, that they can’t trust you with those feelings.
As hard as it is for you, especially if you’re already feeling guilty, the most precious gift you can give someone in pain is to listen with a closed mouth and an open heart. Don’t lecture. Don’t even commiserate (that makes it about you). Don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel that way, don’t try to solve their problem and don’t give advice. These are all called “Feeling Blockers” according to Ty and Linda Hatfield, parenting coaches and founders of Parenting From The Heart, which offers workshops on creating the family of your dreams.
Instead, Ty and Linda say to listen and acknowledge what you’re hearing. “It looks you’re feeling _______,” (fill in the blank with what you are observing, such as angry, hurt, annoyed, frustrated or overwhelmed). “I would imagine you’re feeling sad about not seeing your dad” or even “Uhmm, hmm” are all gentle ways to encourage your kids to open up about their feelings and needs.
Listen with Your Whole Self
Being masters of multitasking, we often do two or more things at once, and we do almost everything while continuously checking our phones. One of the most important things you can do for your kids is to stop, look into their eyes and listen with focused attention while they are speaking to you. Listen to the words but also listen to the energy and emotions under the words. By putting your full attention on your child, you will make a true connection with him or her. You will feel the difference and so will your child. He or she will feel heard in a very deep way.
When you make it an ongoing habit to create a safe and loving space for your kids to share their feelings by simply listening and encouraging, you build trust. You teach them that they and their feelings are important. You give them an outlet for their pain and you strengthen your connection with them in a way that will have a much larger impact on their lives than your divorce.
Use Time to Make Space
With our busy schedules, days or weeks can go by without downtime with our kids. Unfortunately, when the logistics of kids’ sports and activities combine with our early meetings and late conference calls, this kind of time together can fall by the wayside. Yet, relaxed moments together strengthen your connection to your kids, which is especially important during and after a divorce.
It’s important to set aside time to hang out with your kids, either engaging in a fun activity or letting the time be unstructured with no agenda. Whether you’re playing a game, making cookies together or lounging in the backyard, what you’re really doing is making space and time for your kids to open up and share feelings if they want to. They may or may not, that’s not important. What’s important is the gift of time with you focusing your attention on them. Regularly scheduled time together unites you as a family even as you are navigating tough experiences.
If you feel your kids are struggling, consider finding a therapist who specializes in children of divorce. This gives them a safe and neutral space to work through feelings they may be having a hard time expressing.
Next Week: Check the blog, or subscribe if you haven’t already, to get Part 3 of Helping Your Kids To Thrive After Divorce: Don’t Practice Poison Parenting
In case you missed it, here’s a link to Part 1: Give Your Kids Some Power
Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.
Visit www.DebPurdy.com for more information.
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