If you’re in the middle of a divorce, you are likely struggling with how to get through a divorce emotionally, and how to help your kids through it, too. Divorce is tough on all children, but it can be especially rough on teens. Or perhaps it’s that teens are especially rough on their parents. If you’re wondering how to get through a divorce with teenagers, here are 3 strategies for helping teenagers through divorce.
Higher levels of family conflict, in divorced families or intact families, are associated with increases in depression and anxiety in teens. Every divorce has conflict, but there are ways to reduce how much conflict your teens are exposed to. Avoid arguing in front of your kids and realize that even if you aren’t directly arguing in front of them, they pick up on a lot you don’t know that they can see or hear. Also, don’t say anything negative about your child’s other parent.
Learn new ways of communication with your ex-spouse that model self-control and being cordial with each other. Treat him or her like you would treat a co-worker. Take time to calm down before you respond and use email or text whenever needed to take more emotion out of the equation. These communication techniques will go a long way towards supporting your teen through divorce.
Teenagers push away. Engage them anyway. Despite the walls they may be creating, they will benefit by engaging time with both parents. Teenagers tend to pursue independence even faster when their parents are going through a divorce. It can be tempting to throw your hands up and just let them be.
However, studies have shown that teens will have better psychological and behavioral outcomes when they have the stabilizing impact of time with each parent. Your investment in them will pay off, even if you don’t feel it at the moment.
Make time to listen to your teen. Validate their feelings, even if they have hard things to say. Their grief over the divorce may show up at unexpected times or in unpleasant ways. They may say, “Your house is too small, I like dad’s house better.” That’s okay – it’s good for them to get it out. Assure them that you appreciate their being honest with you and that they can always come to you.
If your teen is having a hard time opening up, do something together like driving to get errands done or doing chores around the house. Don’t interrupt them when they talk. Listening will get you so much more information than lecturing. If your teen is having a hard time opening up, you can get support from a counselor for him or her.
Having a teenager when you’re going through divorce can be an emotional rollercoaster. But you and your teen are both going to make it to brighter days ahead! And if you work to stay connected to your teen by listening to them, making regular time for them to spend with both parents and diffusing conflict with your ex-spouse, they can grow into happy and healthy young adults.