Q: Sadly, my husband and i have decided to separate. We are struggling with how to tell our 9- and 12-year-old kids about this change. Advice?
A: Separation and divorce are major stressors. We can try to ease the pain by giving them some important information. If at all possible, both parents should be present when you have the big talk. Let them know that nothing they did caused the break up and that there is nothing they can do to fix it. This is an adult problem that only adults can fix. Let them know that this was not a decision you came to overnight and that you know that this will affect them and that you feel badly about that. Tell them that even though Mom or Dad is living somewhere else, you are still a family. Let them know what will change and what will remain the same, such as, You will stay in your home, have your same friends, pets and school. You can continue your same activities. What will change, is that your kids won’t see one parent every day as he or she will be living in an apartment. But they can speak to the non-custodial parent every day and email.
Make sure that you do not make promises that you may not be able to keep. While the truth may be tough to hear, it is easier for a child to deal with than false hope and constant disappointment. Show empathy by acknowledging that this is a sad time in your family. Give them time to process what they have heard and let them know that they can always come to either parent if they have questions. Make sure that teachers, coaches and other important adults in your children’s lives are aware of the separation. This way they can offer support and will be on the lookout for changes in behavior. Remember that children are highly resilient and in time they find a new rhythm to their lives and are able to adjust. Commonwealth Parenting offers a class called Positive Parenting Through Divorce and Separation. The class will be held in December, so check the website for dates and times.
Q: We have two sons, ages 4 and 6. We would like to take them to restaurants from time to time, but things never seem to go well. We always seem to leave angry and frustrated with their bad behavior. Suggestions?
A: This is a common challenge for parents of young children. We have an image of a lovely family outing, but often the reality looks much different. Keep in mind that your job is to create an environment in which your children can have success.
First, pick a family-friendly restaurant and go early. Even at a family restaurant, the service can be slow and children may be pushed to sit too long or beyond bedtime. This is a sure set-up for meltdowns. Next, explain the behavior you expect: In a restaurant it is important to stay in your seat as people are walking around with trays of hot food and someone could get hurt. We need to use inside voices out of respect to others. Rather than just stating rules, this approach puts them into a context that children can understand. This talk ahead of time helps your children visualize what being at the restaurant should look like.
At 4 and 6, your children are old enough to engage in conversation during this social outing. Talk about the events of the day or discuss the menu. The final step is to bring something for them to do. Young children are short on patience and need to be busy. Bringing a coloring book and crayons or other quiet activity can be helpful. And the last tip is to bring a snack in case the food is late in coming or it is not to their liking. Don’t give up on your kids. With time and practice you should be able to enjoy family meals out in the near future.