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Q & A: Telling The Children About your Divorce

Q. I’m unsure about how to tell our children about the divorce, and I am worried I’ll say the wrong thing. What is the best way?

A. The manner in which you talk to your children about the divorce will depend on their ages and developmental stages. There is no one best way, although it is always important to avoid disparaging your spouse. Changes in your children’s everyday lives, such as a change of residence or one parent leaving the home, are far more important to them than the reasons why you and your spouse no longer want to be married. Information about legal proceedings and meetings with lawyers are best kept among adults, as are your personal feelings about your spouse as you go through the divorce process.

Simpler answers are best for young children. Avoid giving them more information than they need. Use the adults in your life as a source of support to meet your own emotional needs. After the initial discussion, keep the door open to further talks with your children, by creating opportunities for them to talk about the divorce. Use these times to acknowledge their feelings and offer support. Always assure them that the divorce is not their fault, and that both you and your spouse love them, irrespective of the divorce. If necessary, attend counseling with your children to help them cope.

Q. My youngest child seems depressed about the divorce, the middle one is angry, and my teenager is skipping school. How can I cope?

A. A child’s reaction to divorce can vary, depending on his or her age and other factors. Some may cry and beg for a reconciliation. Others may act out. Still others may become quiet and withdrawn. Although you cannot control your child’s reaction, you can reduce conflict with your spouse, act as a consistent and nurturing parent, and make sure both you and your spouse remain involved with supporting your children, regardless of how they are reacting to the divorce.

You will likely be able to better cope with your children’s conduct if they have the support they need. Support groups for children of divorce are available in many religious communities and schools, such as with a school counselor. If more help is needed, confer with a therapist experienced in working with children, and consider therapy sessions for them.