The dictionary definition of trauma is, “an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.” Parents instinctively want to protect children from injury or pain. However, when parents decide to separate or divorce, sharing the news with children is likely to be difficult and painful. However, there are ways to reduce the emotional trauma.
Vikki Stark (Divorce: How to Tell the Kids. pg. 87-95) compares the trauma of telling children with the way a child would react to any threat. She points out that just as adrenaline would surge through a child’s body so that he could run away from a physical threat such as a scary dog, adrenaline will also provoke a strong reaction to hearing that his parents are separating. He is likely to experience uncomfortable feelings and sensations, such as nausea and shakiness. A child may remain glued in a chair, but his mind and heart are likely to be racing.
Parents can help child cope with the fear and despair as they tell their children about separation and divorce. Vikki Stark recommends that:
- Whenever possible, physical contact with your children is very comforting. Holding hands, having them sit next to you or on your lap is reassuring.
- Do whatever you can to remain as calm as possible. Part of children’s fear and despair is a reaction to the fear and despair that they see in parents. Of course, it is very likely that you are very upset and fearful; just do your best to keep these emotions in check when you are sharing the news with your children.
- Be there for your children as they react. Try to be attuned to them; be supportive as possible as they respond to your words. Reassure them that you will try to keep life as normal as possible.