How to help your Children during a difficult time

Many children find themselves facing worries and anxieties that we as adults would hope they would never have to experience. The separation or divorce of parents is one of the largest sources of stress and anxiety for young people, with around 40% of children finding themselves in a separated family at some point. How the adults in their lives behave and what they do can make a huge difference to the level of stress experienced by children. Here are a few tips on how to help them through some of the most difficult times in their childhood.

Talk and Listen

Children often say that a big source of their worries come from not being told what is happening and not being heard, especially as major events take place and big decisions are made that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

  • Don’t try to hide things from children- they know something is going on.
  • When talking to them about things, it is usually best if both parents can do it together so they know they are getting the same message from both of them. To help with this, it is worth being clear about your message beforehand and sticking to it.
  • If something comes up and you haven’t prepared for it, be honest. Tell them that mum and dad need to talk about that and will get back to them.
  • Don’t use the conversation with the children to start a discussion or argument!
  • The calmer you are during the conversation, the more reassured they will be.

Perhaps more important than talking to children is listening to them. Children can often feel lost and that their voices aren’t being heard.

  • Don’t presume you know what is on their mind – their concerns are likely to be quite different to yours.
  • Take time to listen to them and listen calmly, even if what they are saying is not what you want to hear.
  • Acknowledge what they are saying by saying it back to them. Let them correct you if you’ve got it wrong.
  • Being heard is one of the most powerful gifts you can give to a stressed child.

Family and Friends

When things are changing for young people, it is not necessarily mum and dad who they get the most support from. Remember that extended family such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can be very important in supporting children at difficult times. However, friends are perhaps the most common support for children at times of separation. They provide normality and a chance to escape, as well as someone who will listen on equal terms. Often friends have been through similar experiences and can provide an enormous amount of support.

Keep it Normal

Try to spend time together as much as possible; conversations tend to come out naturally when you spend time together rather than in formal ‘let’s sit down and talk’ situations, which can put children on edge. Conversations over meals, board games or when walking or playing together can often be more honest and revealing.

Let the children know you are still there for them, not so much by telling them but by showing you are.

Don’t ask them to help you – let them be children

Your children are not your support system. They need your support and for you to be the grown up. Many children talk about the pressures they feel when parents look for support from them. “It’s you and me against the world” is not what they need to hear. They will then begin to take on adult roles which can bring out further stresses they cannot cope with. Children say they can cope with their pressures, as long as you can cope with yours.

Helping any child during a difficult time is extremely hard, especially if it is close to home and affecting yours and other family members too. If you’d like some extra advice or help for both you and your children during these difficult times, we can help at Berkshire Family Mediation. To find out more, please get in touch by visiting our contact page or by giving us a call on 0118 9571159.