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Going through a divorce in Massachusetts is something that impacts everyone involved in a powerful way, whether it’s friendly or high-conflict. Children and parents alike tend to have a difficult time, as the transition uproots everything that was once a constant in life. This transition is oftentimes made more difficult, or stressful when things like holidays come up. Memories from holidays past tend to arise during this time; causing much nostalgia and pain for both parents and children alike. As a parent, it’s completely natural to want to protect your kids from any hurt or pain a divorce can bring. While it’s not possible to protect children from their own emotions, it is possible to apply a few techniques that can help children learn to cope with their emotions surrounding a divorce this holiday.
Be Mindful and Show Empathy
Despite your own level of stress and emotional turmoil during the holidays, it’s important to be mindful of the impact the holidays have on your children as well. The holidays hold power, with many opportunities to feel and express sadness, as well as joy. Being mindful of this can help you in making a conscious effort to focus on the positive, and to express these positive feelings to your children. There are likely many traditions that surround this time of year that were once shared by the family before the divorce. These can be painful reminders that the family dynamics have changed. When parents are able to recognize that the children are feeling similar emotions surrounding the holidays, and can show empathy surrounding these feelings it joins with them in a way that offers support, and an opportunity to process what they are going through internally.
Communicating about such emotions with your children and offering support is doing them a great service. If it’s too difficult to process some of the emotions surrounding the divorce this holiday, you may wish to seek out a therapist who can offer support for the children during this time and help them adjust to this new life change. Studies show that 80% of children are able to adjust after a divorce in a healthy way. In addition to communication, these studies found that emotional stability, cooperative co-parenting, and meeting the children’s basic needs were the most important factors in determining such outcomes.
Start New Traditions
Starting new traditions may be a way to combat some of the difficult emotions that old traditions can trigger during the holidays. A great way to involve your children in this is to encourage their input in coming up with new traditions you can enjoy together. This will take the focus off the past, and put it on the future, and the fresh new chapter everyone is embarking on in life.
It is often the fear of the unknown that causes anxiety in kids. When it comes to making holiday plans, this is no exception. Making plans for the holidays in advance will give your kids time to adjust to the new way of doing things, and will help them to combat some of the stress or anxiety they may be feeling this time of year says Dr. Robert Emery, PhD. This includes having a plan laid out with your ex in terms of how the holidays will be shared with the children. This gives everyone the chance to become acclimated to the notion of doing things differently this year. Your kids will also have the time to express any emotions surrounding these changes, as they will have ample time to process everything.
Offer Extra Support
Since it’s normal for children to experience emotional outbursts, or acting out behavior during the holidays following a divorce, you will want to not only be cognizant of this, but also offer your children extra support and opportunities for expressing their emotions during this time. A great way to do this is by seeking out a trained child or family therapist in Massachusetts. This can be good for you and/or your ex as well. It’s also a good idea to notify important adults in the lives of the children (such as teachers, day care providers, bus drivers, school counselors, babysitters, church and community leaders, etc.) that this may be an extra difficult time for them.
When life becomes difficult, one of the best ways to combat negative emotions and thought patterns is by focusing on all of the things you are thankful for. This is a great exercise you can do with your kids as well. It will put them in a mindset of gratitude, and remind them that there is a lot of good in life despite the current struggles they are facing. Mr. Marsh and Dr. Keltner of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley attribute a mindset of gratitude toward an overall sense of happiness. This can be made into a fun exercise with your kids, and the more you do it, the more it will become second nature.