The greatest gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy – Meryl Streep
It’s not just you and your partner that go through a separation or divorce – children go along for the ride with you.
No matter what their age, this can be a difficult journey for them to understand. Founder and director of the Sandcastles Program, Gary Neuman wants you to know that it’s how you communicate with your children from the very first mention of a separation or divorce that makes the biggest difference in how they process what is happening.
The Sandcastles Program has helped more than 50,000 children to cope with divorce, and helped parents all over the world better understand their children’s needs and fears throughout the process.
Gary, author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way says that openly communicating from the outset can help children feel loved and safe enough to share their thoughts and feelings throughout the process.
Before you start fretting about letting the wrong words slip out, Gary suggests there is just one cardinal rule all parents need to follow – never criticise each other in front of the children.
“When they bad-mouth each other, it causes [the children] to question if they can love both,” he says.
“Kids should be free to love both parents. If you say something bad about the other person, your child may feel disloyal to you if they actually love them. They should never have to make that kind of choice.”
Gary says children often blame themselves after a divorce and secretly believe that they can somehow fix things. But the secret is, all people heal through loving connection, so simply spending quality time with your children and showing empathy will make a world of difference.
KIDS SHOULD BE FREE TO LOVE BOTH PARENTS
“The most important thing is to take the pressure off of yourself as a parent to say just the right words. It’s the feeling. It’s looking at these kids and saying, ‘Gosh, I know it hurts. It makes sense that it’s sad. And I wish I could do something different. But we’re a family and we’re going to get through this’,” he says.
Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way is a warm and empathetic guide that can help you to build a coparenting relationship, figure out if or when you or your child need to see a therapist and offers ageappropriate scripts to addressing sensitive issues.
There are dozens of activities and fun exercises that will help you to communicate and get closer to your child during this life-changing process and the book shows you how divorce can actually be an opportunity for your child to grow and strengthen their bond with you.
Here are Gary’s three rules about the right way to break the news of your divorce to your children:
Tell the entire family at once
“Sit down together. We’re still going to be together as a family, even at the moment of breaking up,” he says.
You must convey the crucial messages in the first 45 seconds
“You say three things: ‘Mum and Dad made each other very sad and we think that it’s best for the family that Mum and Dad live apart. You guys are going to spend plenty of time with both of us in our homes. And it is absolutely not your fault. You did nothing to cause this.’”
Both partners must practice the conversation together before talking to the kids
Once you break the news to your children, Gary says it’s important to listen and help them deal with their sadness. “They [may] start crying, and then you hold hands. You hug. You sit. You allow them to ask questions,” he says.
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