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Separating Facts from Feelings: Helping Kids Understand the Difference

When moms and dads divorce, it is safe to say that everyone’s “feelings” get hurt. In one-way or another both the adults and the children feel the brunt, the loss, the grief of a changing family unit. Doesn’t matter whose “fault” it is. Pain is part of the divorce formula and it funnels its way into each person’s heart and mind.

What parents can do to help their children cope with the wide range of emotions that they are certain to experience on any given day, week, or month following a divorce, is pretty straightforward. Definitely not easy, but there are some steps that can help everyone work through this tough time more smoothly.

  • Explain the difference between feelings and facts. Kids will “feel” rejected and sad and perhaps unloved. This is a normal response given the magnitude of the changing family dynamics. The “fact” is, in most scenarios both parents do love and continue to care for their children. Help kids understand that feelings cannot always be trusted as the accurate gauge of what is happening around them. Give them examples from your own life when you as an adult have had feelings that don’t match up with reality. Help children understand that feelings are fickle; and emotional highs and lows are part of the human experience.
  • Assist children in dispelling the very real fear that they won’t see their non-custodial parent. Empathize with their feelings, but correct their thinking with facts. Provide the details of when, where, and how often they will visit and spend time with their other parent. Use a calendar for younger children and mark it accordingly to further help them understand their parent isn’t exiting their life.
  • Keep the lines of communication open even when feelings get intense. Realize that your kids may express their pain in ways you deem inappropriate. Rather than shut them down or react in kind; be prepared for volatile outbursts by planning ahead. Your children may never have before experienced such intensity of emotion. Reassure them of your love and then calmly work to find mutually respectful and effective ways to discuss what they are feeling.

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