Parenting Through Trauma and Divorce

Talking with your children about divorce and other traumatic events requires the parents to get on the same page. This is difficult when the parents are going through a divorce or are already separated and living in two households.

We are living through a time of increased unpredictability, and the impact it could have on our children in the long run is still unknown. In this interview with attorney Latrice Knighton, we hear some tips for how to talk with and support our children in situations such as divorce, loss, and great change that comes with traumatic events.

Childhood Trauma and Divorce

Trauma is defined as an emotional response to an intense event that threatens or causes harm. Trauma can be caused by many things real or perceived, and response to it is unique to each individual. Children are incredibly resilient, and limited amounts of stress can help them grow, establish healthy routines and problem solving skills.

The difference between routine stress and trauma is when that stress overwhelms the child’s ability to cope. There is no right or wrong way to respond to a traumatic event, so the first challenge for parents is to resist the urge to have an expectation for how your child should be thinking or feeling. Instead, help them understand that they are safe and loved, regardless of what is happening around them.

Especially in situations such as divorce, it is hard for parents to get on the same page on how to address traumatic events. Arguing about how to parent a child through trauma can itself exacerbate the situation.

It is important to present a united front with both parents agreeing on how to talk about these issues with their children. This will help the child rebuild trust and feel safe. Depending on the age of your child, that could be as simple as saying, “Everything will be ok” or “you’re safe” or, for older children, providing information and background on the event can be helpful.

Pay attention to what your children are being exposed to. Explicit media and negative influences should be minimized, but that isn’t to say you should keep your child from knowing what is happening in the world. For older kids, a good practice to get in the habit of is watching the news with them.

This will make sure that they are not re-watching disturbing content to further traumatize themselves, and you can also reassure them and put information that they see and hear into context. Studies show that printed news is also less traumatic than live media coverage.

Overall, the most important thing when helping a traumatized child in their recovery is to simply listen to them. Engage them, establish safe and healthy routines. Provide your child with opportunities to share what they think or how they feel.

Just like how everyone experiences trauma differently, we all heal differently as well. Being patient with your child is critical throughout their life, not just in response to trauma. When children feel heard, it plays a large role in how they will develop self esteem, how they socialize in the world, and how they will handle traumatic situations in the future.

There is no one size fits all for parenting, your child did not arrive attached to a “How-to” guide. As much as we want to be there for our children and provide what they need to lead a happy and successful life, we also must acknowledge that we will make many mistakes along the way.

Children look to their parents for guidance not just in response to traumatic events, but in everyday life. To ensure that you are properly equipped to be there to support your child, you must also take care of your own mental health and wellbeing.