THE BLOG

Staying Calm When Kids Lose It During Divorce

01/13/2014 02:31 pm ET | Updated Mar 15, 2014

angry children

Divorce brings lots of changes, and kids are often not good at transitions. Especially at young ages, kids like predictability; they want things to stay the same. So, while their life circumstances require a lot of adaptations, many of those changes will be unwelcome. They'll have to adjust to new homes, and transitions between homes. They might have to change schools and lose friends. There will be favorite relatives they no longer see, and new family members they may not like. Dealing with all the changes in their lives makes kids aware of their lack of control. They may react with anger, resistance or a sullen, uncooperative attitude. These are tough situations where both kids and adults can become easily upset. Kids, though, are still inexperienced at managing their frustrations and need an adult to help calm things down. In order to be this reassuring presence in your kids' lives, it's important that you be able to manage your own stress and learn how to stay grounded and calm.

Think of a time when you've been overwrought. Then remember who helped you, and how comforting it was to have them stay supportive and ride out your emotional storm with you. Being that loving supportive person is the best way for us to help our children restore their sense of balance. It requires, though, a special watchfulness over our own levels of upset and to be able to move into a more positive space. To facilitate this shift you'll need to be conscious of what's happening to you in your body, your emotions and your thoughts. Here are some techniques I've used in my EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) practice that you might find helpful.

Notice your body

How do you know you're getting ramped up? What happens in your body? Do you feel a knot in your stomach? Do you feel tightness in your neck and shoulders? Does your voice get shrill? Learn your body's unique signs of growing tension. Take a moment to breathe deeply and slow down. Consider using the Lightstream Technique to restore calm to your body. Imagine a healing light seeping through the top of your head. This light can be whatever color you associate with healing. Let the light slowly move through your body, starting at your head and going down to your toes. Imagine this light melting all your tension and relaxing your muscles. Let the light direct itself to wherever you still have tightness. Imagine this light continuing to expand and calm your entire body. Continue to breathe in calm, healing light, and to exhale tension. Stay with this image until you are comfortable and your body is at ease.

Notice your emotions

What emotions are you feeling? Are you angry? Is your authority being challenged? Are you about to engage in a power struggle? Are you sad and feeling defeated? Are you feeling unloved and taken advantage of? Just give yourself a moment to realize what you're feeling. Whatever the emotion, it's okay; we all get pushed to the edge sometimes, which can cause us to feel negative emotions. Maybe the Spiral Technique can help you shift the emotion. Imagine the emotion you're feeling as energy. If this emotion were a spiral of energy, which direction would it be going, clockwise or counterclockwise? In your mind's eye watch this energy moving, then see if you can gently change the direction of the spiral. Notice if you feel the negative energy dissipating. If one direction doesn't work, try the other one.

Notice your thinking

Are you thinking your children are doing this on purpose to annoy you? Are you blaming them? Do you think they should be able to handle this on their own? Do you think they're being childish, overly emotional, or defiant? Being able to notice your negative thoughts will help you see that something's out of balance. Try guided imagery to gain perspective. Use the Safe Place Technique. Think of a calm scene where you are happy and peaceful. Visualize the scene in as much detail as you can remember. Bring up the sensations that go with that place. Notice any colors, smells, and anything else that's pleasant. Notice how you're feeling and identify a single word that would go along with this feeling. Repeat the word while you imagine the scene and allow yourself to merge with the scene. Notice when you start to feel calmer and there's a shift in your energy.

Being able to be the adult in charge means finding a way to calm your body, shift to more compassionate feelings and engage in more positive thoughts. Children do push the limits; but it's important to remember that they are also developmentally driven to explore and test their power. They also have less control over their emotions, and a less developed brain to think things through. They need you to help them manage their emotions, keep perspective and restore calm. Most importantly, they need your loving presence and calm authority.