We want to keep our children safe and do everything in our power to make sure they feel safe and secure. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things can come in a marriage that can tear a family apart and leave children feeling scared and vulnerable.
Relationships go through their ups and downs. Even the best marriages can have some bumpy roads, but when there are children involved, it is important they know this is not their fault and are loved by both parents. Help your kids better cope with the situation by sticking to their routine, providing stability, and being there to answer their questions.
If you are going through a difficult time in your marriage, providing children with structure, routines, and stability is key to helping them feel a little more in control of what is going on. Children feel more secure when they know what to expect and sticking to their daily routines gives them that. While sticking to routine, maintain the rules, rewards, and discipline too. In some cases, when dealing with hard times, it is easy to spoil children and allow them to break rules. This doesn’t help anyone in the end.
When talking with your children about the situation, the first thing to remember is they do not need to know the whole situation. Here are 5 things to remember when talking with your children:
1. Keep nasty comments about your spouse to yourself. In your anger, talking poorly about your spouse can be tempting. However, these types of comments are not helpful and can be destructive not only to your child, but to their relationship with you. If problems between you and your spouse escalate, you need to have a clear understanding that defaming each other in front of the children is not acceptable. This is also good for in-laws and other family members to know as well.
2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Sometimes when dealing with difficult situations you want to reassure your children that everything is going to be okay. But sometimes there are things that are out of your control (i.e. your spouse moving back in) and it is important you are honest (age appropriately) with your children to help give them a sense of security that things may not be as they were.
3. Put yourself in their shoes. Think back to when you were 6 or 10 or 13 or 16, what would you have needed from your parents during this time? What would you want to know? Help your children adjust during this time by taking a moment to see things from their point of view. Also during this time, if you have more than one child, you will need to adapt your approach to meet their individual needs. Use this exercise to consider what each child will need to feel safe with the changes taking place.
4. Be ready to answer their questions. Change is hard, especially for children, and this is a scary time for them. Allow them to ask questions to keep the communication lines open, reinforce they are still part of the family, and let them know you are always available for them. Also, be mindful of the responses, “I’m fine,” “I’m not interested,” or “I don’t care,” as those are never really the case. Give your children a safe environment to feel they can talk openly about how they are feeling.
5. Help them express their feelings. For many children, expressing their feelings is hard. During this difficult time, encourage your child to share their feelings and really listen to what they have to say. They may be feeling something you hadn’t expected and will need to talk about. Also, because it is hard for children to express themselves, pay attention to their moods and how they are behaving.
If they are acting out, help them to find the words to tell you how they are feeling. While they are opening up to you about how they are feeling, be mindful of their feelings and understand that you may not be able to fix their problems (or take away their sadness), but by acknowledging their feelings, the better you can show them you understand.
Another important aspect to remember when dealing with a difficult time in your marriage is to practice self-care towards yourself. Take some time to write in a journal, talk with friends, and find a great support group where you can vent and talk about your feelings. Remember, you never want to vent to your children about what goes on between you and your spouse. This is what a close friend, support group, or a therapist can help with.
If you have any further questions about what you can do to help your child cope with the situation, a therapist can help to answer your questions.