What Helps Children Cope With Divorce? – TDM Expert Interviews

What Helps Children of Divorce Cope Interview
Thumbnail for the YouTube video "What Helps Children Cope with Divorce? - TDM Expert Interviews (EP. 5 ) - Dr Soila Sindiyo"
Soila Sindiyo
Dr Soila Sindiyo
Counselling Psychologist and Founding Editor of The Divorce Magazine

Delve into a comprehensive exploration of children and divorce with Dr. Soila Sindiyo, Founding Editor of The Divorce Magazine and a HCPC registered Counselling Psychologist. In this enlightening interview, Dr. Sindiyo shares crucial insights into recognising signs of a child struggling with divorce, offering invaluable tips on supporting children of divorce through the process, and fostering their wellbeing during and after the proceedings.

Gain a deeper understanding of the psychological impact on children and discover actionable advice to help them not just cope but thrive. Explore the full transcript to equip yourself with essential knowledge for navigating the complexities of divorce with children involved.

Read on for the full transcript of our video, “What Helps Children Cope With Divorce?”


Hi everyone so today we are filming episode five of The Divorce Magazine expert interviews,  and today we’re actually going to be speaking to the Founder of The Divorce Magazine Soila. So Soila do you want to introduce yourself and say a bit about yourself?

Yeah, so my name is Soila, I am, uh, the Founder of The Divorce Magazine I’ve been, well now we, because now it’s not just me anymore have been um, working and running The Divorce Magazine for quite a few years now. Um, and what it is it’s actually um, what we would call a bridge between the divorce professionals, and their clients that they’re looking for.

So we offer um, we get contributions from divorce professionals only, and no bloggers, and um, um, that they give us contributions of articles on all kinds of issues to do with divorce and separations and then our readers are very much um, clients or people who are looking um, for assistance or help support and guidance from divorce professionals.

So we’re kind of like a bridge an online magazine that’s bridging between, the divorce professionals and the clients or those who are going through divorce and um, and separation.

Um, so that’s one part of me, the other part of me the hat that I’ll be wearing today is um, uh, Doctor and Counselling Psychology and I’ve been working with children and families um, goodness I don’t know how long actually when I, maybe I do and I don’t want to say but anyway um, I’ve been working with children and families for let’s say over a decade or so um, but now um, it seems like my work has become very, very focussed on working with divorce and what comes through with divorce.

Whether it’s their parents um, whether it’s their families, their dads, their mums, whoever, is embroiled in this world of divorce which can be quite difficult and confusing.

Perfect thank you. So today we’re going to be talking about sort of, like what helps children cope with divorce and stuff so, it would be really interesting to hear what you have to say about it.

What helps children of divorce cope?

So my first question is what actually helps children cope with divorce? Um, yeah I think the first thing that I would say is, just for, parents to realise that the moment that we tell our children that um, we’re going to divorce, or that they’re going to divorce and separate, or they’re going to live in different households um, not to assume that the children saw it coming.

Even where there has been a lot of acrimony and there has been violence, not to just assume that the children know this has been coming. To actually treat it like it’s news to the children and to take it from there because that moment can be a watershed moment for the children and uh, and then the other thing that can help them cope with the divorce is to be able to answer their questions as much as possible. “When am I going to see my dad?” “When am I going to see my mum?” “Where am I going to be living?” “Where are you going to be living?”

You know just answer their questions as they come. Because one, one um, psychologist that I love dearly um, he’s no longer with us but you know his name is Haim Ginott and he wrote a book on uh, Between Parent and Child, and one of the things he says in that book is “children don’t ask a question to which they have an answer.”

So when you’re going through divorce, and your child asks questions and you think, ‘well they should know the answer to that’ actually they don’t, it’s a whole new world that they’re trying to manoeuvre now.

You know, “mummy and daddy are no longer in the same house um, what does that mean?” Whichever parent has moved out of the house, whether it’s mum or dad and they’ve moved out of the house, let the children know where you are, if they can come and see where you are, and you know sometimes it’s really difficult and it can be in a bedsit that the one parent has moved to go and live in a bedsit because of financial reasons. It’s okay let your child come and see where you are so that they don’t have this whole um, questions in their mind, “where is daddy?” “Where is mummy?” “Where are they living?” “Are they safe?” “Are they okay?” Because they will ask those questions.

So it’s very much about, you know helping them cope, answering the questions, providing them with uh, the other thing that I would say um, to help them really, really cope, if their lives can remain as, it was before the divorce as much as possible, a lot of the times it’s not possible, but um, if it cannot remain that meaning that um, they go to the same school, they have the same friends, um, they still remain in contact with mummy’s family, with daddy’s family, they still see the grandparents if that can still remain the same for them, then that would be absolutely great for them.

If it cannot, then you have to be aware of how those changes are going to affect them because their world now has changed, and it will change even more if suddenly they can’t see the people that they have been seeing. So security, stability, predictability, if they can have that post-divorce then that would be really helpful for them, it can help them cope a lot yeah.

Are there tell-tale signs if the child is not coping with divorce?

Amazing, and so is there anything that you would say is like a tell-tale sign if they’re not coping with divorce? Yeah, um, yeah and this can also be dependent on age.

So let’s say through the, childhood lifespan if I can call it that um, some of the common uh, or usual um, observations that you can make if your child has not been able to cope or is not coping with divorce, is they can maybe withdraw, and just become really silent and this is something that you can even see with really young children even toddlers where they just become really quiet.

Um, sometimes people say “oh then, he’s just a baby, he doesn’t understand that mummy doesn’t live with us anymore or daddy doesn’t live with us anymore.” But if you look at that baby, the baby is aware that there’s a vacuum in the house that has been created.

There’s somebody I’m not seeing or hearing regularly um, so do they become withdrawn or, do they have mood swings do they go from being really quiet and then they just go they’re really quick to anger, which is usually um, one of the biggest signs that they’re not coping and they, you know really quick to anger. Are they um, just being fussy, wingy, whiny, what, what’s going on for them so it’s something to look for, to look, not forward to, but to look out for.

And then um, the other thing that can tell you if they’re not coping, is if, it, if their sleeping habits have changed. If they’re either sleeping too much or too little, if they’re eating too much or too little, whatever changes that you can see um, in terms of what you know how, how, how you would know.

And for some children, and this can happen even with children who are like 10 um, so it’s not just toddlers, they can become very clingy. So they want to know where everybody is, if dad gets up to go to the kitchen to get a coffee, “dad where are you going?” When you know and just, I need to know where everybody is, which can also, it can be so frustrating for parents, “I’m just going to have a shower, can I have that?” You know and it’s like yeah and you might open the door, and you might find them sited outside waiting for you, so they might actually be quite clingy.

Um, I think also, with little ones maybe, let me think and I’m not putting this in stone, but maybe children who are even up to 7/8, you might see some signs of regression. Um, meaning they start doing things that they used to do when they were little um, maybe the foods that they wanted to eat when they were little, if they only wanted to eat pasta with cheese for instance and they haven’t done that for, three years and now it’s just pasta and cheese it’s kind of like their comfort food, have they regressed in one way or the other.

Some children will, stop being able to do things for themselves it’s like “help me put on my jumper” and you’ve been doing that for the last 6 months but now it’s like, “I don’t know how put on my jumper.” So any signs of regression um, yeah I think I mean there, there are loads of other ones, I can’t think of all of them are not coming right now but yeah, those are some of the signs that can tell you when your child is not coping um, with, with, with the divorce or the new home situation.

What are the effects of divorce on children?

And what would you say are the effects of divorce on children? What are like the top ones that you can think of? The top ones that I can think of are, let’s say with school age children, it can be concentration, lack of focus they’re not able to focus anymore um, in school in class um, they’re, wondering “who’s picking me up”, “who’s dropping me off”, “what’s that going to be like” so the school um, environment can be affected.

Um, with older children who are probably sitting for assessments and so forth or have homework, you might see falling grades um, sometimes I’ve had parents who say oh no, no, no, no, the school is fine you know they’re happy, their grades are good, they’ve kept up with their grades and that’s great so that environment has not been affected probably because they’re still in the same school, it’s still the au pair, or the nanny, or the mum, or the grandparent, or the dad who’s picking them up so that side hasn’t change, which is great.

Um, and then the other thing that I can think of um, is the effects of, of divorce on children so you have, the school you have the fears that they might have um, you might have their view of the world you know with the older children for instance you know the world is broken, you know so, “don’t tell me what to do.” So they might become more belligerent, with whatever it is and not just with the parent, but also with other people in their lives. Um, yeah, so that’s, yeah, so that’s some of them.

What advice would you give to parents who are seeing a change in their child?

And what advice would you give to parents who are kind of like seeing a change in their child’s behaviour? How can they manage that? I would say with that um, if you see there’s a change in your child’s behaviour, name it.

Talk to them about it, bring it up, um, don’t, it’s almost like I remember um, attending this training and one thing you know one, two, two, three words I guess it is that, that um, I came away with it’s like connection before correction. So if you have, if you see your child’s behaviour is changing, then meet them where they are because their world has changed not, out of choice, but meet them where they are.

Um, name it say it um, you know “I’ve noticed that for the past week, or for the past two weeks, or the past six months”, or whatever you want you know however long it’s been um, “you’ve been kind of quiet you know um, and I’m just wondering you know how I can help and I’m thinking maybe it’s because of the divorce your dad and I, your mum and I” you know, um, “we’ve been through, I don’t know you know, it’s just something that I’ve noticed is going on with you.”

If they’re, so just reflecting back and we’ll talk about reflexivity again I’m sure but um, yeah as soon as you see any changes in behaviour name it, let them know that you’ve seen them, reflect it back to them um, and please let school know what’s going on at home, you know don’t tell the children “don’t tell school”, you know “don’t take our business to school” not at all because what you’re asking them, is to leave this house that’s already probably bringing them a lot of anxieties and insecurities and so forth, stay with it from 9 to 3:30 or 6 if they’re staying for after school club and then come home with it…

Quite a big ask for children so please let school know what’s going on so that they have somebody in school who’s looking after them. They need looking after nurturing as much as possible, yeah, I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question Amey, yeah, no that was really good really, really.

How much should a parent tell their child about the divorce?

And then so kind of following on from that, when the parents do speak to the children and tell them that they are getting a divorce or they are separating, how much should they actually tell the child about the divorce?

Okay, yeah, this is a question that I really get a lot um, ‘how much do I tell my child’. I always think, age appropriateness. Right um, first of all don’t speak disparagingly or denigrate the other parent and I know maybe I’ll get a bit of backlash from this no matter what they’ve done.

If mum has gone off and had an affair, and this is what’s breaking the, the family up, the child doesn’t really need to know everything about that. You know they don’t need to know oh “she went and had an affair with your PE teacher” I don’t know, you know, it doesn’t need to be said it can just be “something has changed” depending on what age the child is.

Older children, might have an idea already that mum or dad is having an affair or you know dad is going off, or mum is drinking too much they might know that there’s something already amiss. How much do you tell them? You tell them what they need to know.

So “we’re not living together anymore”, “we’re going to separate”, answer all the questions again, but don’t tell them how bad or how horrible the other parent has been and how they’ve mistreated you throughout the whole marriage and everything because as soon as you start doing that, and you start, and I use the word “vomiting everything on top of your child”, they have no way of cleaning up. They don’t have the power, to process and they don’t know where, where to put this you know.

Um, and I will say that with, even with older children/teenagers, let them find out that actually mum has always been really mean to dad and now I can see it, let them find out for themselves. Or, you know um, dad has been always mean to dad and this is how, you know this is why they don’t get on, they’ll find out for themselves. Your job at that moment is to actually continue nurturing them, looking after them, answering the qu, their questions in a way that you’re not putting adult matters on them.

They, they don’t need to know about the court case that’s happening next week and how – said this and how the um, report from the contact centre said that mum is not doing, they don’t need to know all of that. All they need to know is “where are my parents?”, “Am I okay?”, “Will this be okay?” Yeah, perfect.

What is the best co-parenting plan / child arrangement plan?

And what would you say is the best co-parenting plan or child arrangement? I know you’ve spoken with Beth about, you know bird nesting and co-parenting so I’d like to know what, what do you think is the best arrangement?

Yeah, the answer to that that I would come up with is when it’s completely child focussed. It’s child focussed, child-centred, that’s the best co-parenting plan. Um, a lot of the times when I’ve worked with parents uh, I’ve had parents who will come and the child arrangement that they’re coming with is completely focussed on the parents. “I want to see my child”, “I want to see my son”, “I want to see my daughter” and, so which means that their little tiny children who move between homes midweek um, and uh, and when, or if they’re away from the other parent, the other parent doesn’t want them to get in touch with them because “it’s my time with my child.”

When it’s child-centred and child-focussed, “how can I make their world better” then you get a really good co-parenting plan. Um, and it’s hard sometimes especially when you don’t get on with the other parent, it’s really hard, it’s like grr, “I really don’t want to see her today I don’t”, “it’s Thursday she’s coming to you know”, put on your, big girls blouse, pants whatever, and do what you need to do, to make sure that your child says “bye mum, bye dad, I’ll see you later” as opposed to going “dad can we go now, can we go now, can we go now” or having your seven-year-old saying “it’s okay dad I’ll go and meet mum, at you know at the gate myself.”

You know all of that because they don’t want the animosity so the, the co-parenting plan um, is when it’s very, very focussed and I will say as structured as possible, because children need to know, ‘who am I with when, what time’, ‘how am I getting there’, then you’re giving them stability and security in their lives.

With bird nesting, which is um, for those who don’t know we have actually a video on, on um, on The Divorce Magazine about bird nesting and another article about bird nesting but it’s where the children remain in the house, and then the parents move out. So, and then they alternate so this day, daddy comes to the house and looks after the children for a week let’s say and then the next week mum or other dad comes to the house and looks after the children for that week and um, so they stay in, in the house.

And um, I like that I have to say, I like that because if I keep talking about predictability and um, predictability and stability for the children and consistency, that’s a really good way of there being consistency and predictability so they don’t forget “I forgot my homework books at dad’s house”, “I forgot this at, at you know mum’s house” and so forth. So there’s you know there isn’t any of that.

Um, I think in that interview with Beth I actually mentioned having spoken with an adult child of divorce recently when I knew I was going to, to interview Beth, and I asked her “would that have worked for her? Can she imagine that being um, for her? And um, and she said, “I don’t know because it means that I’m left in the house that, where everything broke down and then you get to leave.” Right, “maybe I want to leave, maybe I want a change from one home to the other.”

So there’s that to also keep in mind and, and the other thing with bird nesting it’s not for everybody, because where there is like Beth was saying “where there’s substance abuse, where there’s domestic abuse um, where there psychological emotional”, where there’s you know it’s really, really uh, conducive for the other parent, then maybe bird nesting is not the way. Maybe the other parent who’s going through, whatever form of abuse, or if they, if that the, the parent with a substance abuse is there, maybe not sharing a home you know in that way and having a break could be better for that parent, but then it reflects back to the children. Yeah.

How can parents encourage their children to express their feelings?

And how would you say um, parents can encourage their children to express their feelings and concerns when going through the whole divorce process? I love this question um, why do I like it? Because uh, it talks of reflexivity.

And um, reflexivity is when you reflect back to the child, what’s going on. So like if you think of the child’s mind like uh, black box we don’t know really what’s going on in there, so we are trying to find out and, whatever is in the child’s mind, is showing in their behaviour, just like whatever is in our mind comes out in our behaviour.

So with a child um, when you keep reflecting back to them um, you know “seeing daddy leave might you know seems like it made you sad or, it seems like this new setup is frustrating you”, you’re encouraging them to, acknowledge their own feelings for one and saying to them “you know what, what you’re feeling is actually right, it’s valid, it’s spot on” um, as opposed to not mentioning it or, dismissing it and saying “oh I know your dad’s just left but you’re not going to play up with me” you know “that’s it go to the bath, have your bath like I said” and they just like, you know “I just want to see my dad”, “I just want to see my mum”, you know that kind of thing.

So reflecting back and telling them, “I can see you, I hear you, I see what is going on.” When you reflect back to them, then also what you’re saying to them is that “this is what we need to do”, we need to acknowledge, we need to talk about our feelings and it’s okay sometimes to actually say “you know what, I feel sad that the marriage has broken down as well” you know, “I feel sad about it and I struggle sometimes” um, you know with this or with that but just encouraging them to talk to about their feelings.

But it means that as parents we need to be very vigilant about what is going on in this child, and reflecting it back to them and then they learn, ah, so this is how I’m feeling and it’s okay, I get it. I’m not saying they won’t play up, you know they will but at least their feelings have been acknowledged and it’s okay they might say “I’m really angry with you, I hate you so much” and when they say that it’s because they’re really, really angry that’s their way to show that they’re really angry so just saying to them, “yeah I know you say you hate me and I think what you’re telling me is that you’re really, really angry with me.”

Yeah, yeah, I like that it’s really like validating to the child and making them yeah, yeah. And validating is the word actually it’s validating their feelings yeah, absolutely.

How do I ensure my child thrives not only during a divorce, but afterwards as well?

Erm, so what’s the most important piece of advice the parents who want to ensure their children thrive during, but also after the divorce as well? It’s a tricky question but, it’s a very tricky question and it’s kind of like a big question and I’m thinking um, the most important advice and this is so hard because divorce brings out the worst in us.

You know you can do things during the divorce process that, if anyone had told you, you were going to do that you’d be like “absolutely not, that’s not me”, right and then you go through divorce and you’re like, all guns blazing and you’re, you’re annoyed.

But I think the most important advice that I would give um, to parents is please don’t denigrate or disparage the other child’s the, the child’s other parent, to the child or within ears shot of the child. Don’t talk about what a lousy dad or piece of whatever mum can be and she’s a this and he’s a that, don’t do that when the child is there or when they can hear it.

Don’t argue with the other parent over the phone and say “you always come late I can’t believe it no, no, no.” Don’t create an environment that is causing anxiety to your child. Be the adult in the room, take that anxiety, and take it somewhere else but don’t give it to the child. Don’t think the child needs to know what kind of a dad he is or what kind of a mum she is he doesn’t, or she doesn’t or they don’t.

What they need to know is, my world is going to be okay, and we are the ones who are going to have to do that. So take your anxieties, anger and put them somewhere else, don’t put them on the child and if ever you do, say something that is not nice about the other parent, to the child, apologise. And even if it’s the next day you just say “ do you know what I’ve been thinking I shouldn’t have said that about your dad, because he is your dad I shouldn’t have said that” how, even if you’re thinking ‘I said it because I really mean it’, you’re looking after your child. Yeah. And that’s what matters most. Yeah, yeah.

Amazing, well that’s all the questions I have today but thank you so much, really, really insightful and hopefully these resonate with some people and it helps them kind of navigate the whole process through divorce and separation. Yes, yeah and, and just as a parting you know, note um, like I said to you one time divorce will always be a watershed moment for the children but what happens after, that, that can be the biggest, I would say probably the primary trauma in their lives, what happens after that. Mum and Dad splitting up, one thing, how it’s managed, that’s the most important thing, from then on. Yeah. Okay thank you, thank you so much, thank you, take care.


Read more articles by Dr Soila Sindiyo.

About Dr Soila Sindiyo

Dr Soila Sindiyo is a counselling psychologist and a child development psychologist who has worked with children, young people and families for several years. She is the founding editor of The Divorce Magazine and is an accredited Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) practitioner.

Her private practice website parentinglives.co.uk.

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