7 Tips to Help Your Teen Cope with the Stress of Divorce
You want to help your teenager, but you don’t know how. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed yourself by a separation or divorce. You know you’ve made the right decision, but you are worried about your children. Maybe your teen is expressing anger, seems depressed or has more anxiety. Here are a few tips for parenting a teenager during and after a parental separation or divorce:
- Be honest…in an age appropriate way. Teens don’t need to know every little detail of why you are getting a divorce. Cheating spouses, alcoholism or financial difficulties that led to conflict in the marriage may not be topics you want to discuss with your teen and it is ok to draw some boundaries in the conversation. However, it’s also important to not make up reasons for your separation or avoid questions altogether. Teenagers are at an age where they will pick up on dishonesty, so be honest while still being mindful of what you feel is appropriate to share.
- Listen to and validate your child’s emotions. Understand that strong emotions are normal for teens, but especially teens whose entire family structure is changing. Your child may yell, withdraw, sulk or cry. Their world is changing and they feel confused. Parents are often stressed and full of emotions themselves during a separation and divorce. Know that even if your child is expressing only anger, they still need their parent. By acknowledging and validating their emotions you will help your child begin to process their feelings and communicate that you still see them as an individual. I wrote an article on this topic which can be found here.
- Continue to provide rules and structure. The teenage years are full of emotions and exploration to begin with. When a teen’s parents divorce, they may feel even less in control of their lives. While the temptation to give them unlimited freedom so they are less mad or want to spend time at your house makes sense, the truth is that your teen needs and internally even craves the structure that rules and expectations provide. Be fair and consistent with your rules. Whenever possible, work together with your former spouse to provide consistency in expectations. While differences between the houses are to be expected, co-parenting will be vitally important at least until your child is through high school.
- Encourage their relationship with both parents. When the emotions of a marital separation or divorce are raw, you may feel tempted to speak ill of your ex spouse. Even if you don’t say something directly, your teen may pick up on your facial expression or body language when the other parent’s name comes up. Express to your teen that even though you and their other parent have differences, you both love them and you want your child to have a good relationship with both parents. Be flexible with your parenting schedule for teenagers and don’t take it personally if your teenager asks to spend more time with their other parent for awhile. Teenagers need both parents but may feel closer to one or the other at various points in time.
- Allow your youth emotional space to process the divorce while making it clear that you love them. Your teen may go through periods of being closer to one parents and angry at the other. Perhaps they withdraw from the entire family and spend more time with friends. Teenagers whose parents divorce are likely to experience a variety of emotions. As a divorced parent of a teen, the most important thing you can do is communicate your unconditional love. Let your child know that you are there when they want to talk and that your love for them has never and will never change.
- It’s ok for your teen to know that you too have feelings. It is important that teens learn that they can experience strong emotions and be ok. You have the opportunity to model this for them by allowing your teen to know you too feel strong emotions about your family situation and letting them see how you cope with those feelings. If your child sees you crying or stressed out, asks what’s wrong and your response is, “Oh nothing,” then you have missed a learning opportunity.
- Encourage your child to find a healthy outlet for their emotions. This may mean joining a basketball team, a club, learning a new instrument or drawing. Anything that will allow them to clear their minds and feel a sense of control and accomplishment in one area of their lives.
If you or your child are feeling “stuck,” depressed or have anxiety that’s interfering with your day to day living, please reach out today. If you’re having difficulty being parenting because you feel overwhelmed, we can help. If your teenager doesn’t feel like they can even talk about their emotions, we’ll provide them a safe environment to do so. Counseling can help both you and your teen find meaning and cope with the stress of divorce. We take time to match each individual with the right therapist based on personality, your wants and the therapist’s expertise. If seeing both a teen and parent are seen at Aspire Counseling, we typically assign different therapists. Healing, hope and happiness are all possible. You may contact us using the form on this page or by calling 573-328-2288.
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