For many couples, the hardest part of a divorce is how it affects the children. Divorce could greatly impact a child mentally and emotionally. Announcing that you and your spouse are divorcing will be a difficult conversation with your child no matter what age. Knowing how to talk to your child about it in a constructive way based on his or her developmental level, however, could help your child come to terms with the divorce in a healthy way.
Young children may not fully understand what the word divorce means. It may take them a long time to grasp the changes that come with divorce, such as one parent moving out. Be patient and prepare to answer any questions your young child may have, such as “Who will look after me?” “Where will I live?” “Where will our dog live?” “Was it my fault?” Answer these questions openly and honestly, with one key point to get across: both parents still love you.
Your toddler might not be able to fully understand what is happening, so the most important thing to get across is that he or she will still have both parents in his or her life and that the divorce was not the child’s fault. A school-aged child may be curious about how it may affect his or her daily life. For example, will he or she stay at the same school? Be around the same friends? Go to the same church? Explaining your plans for after the divorce could help your child get used to the idea of what life might look like.
After announcing your divorce, pay attention for signs that your toddler or young child is taking the news badly. Young children can exhibit emotional distress through signs such as sudden outbursts, regression, anger, tantrums, fear, clinginess, anxiety or depression. If you notice signs of distress, consider taking your child to therapy. Let your child know you and your spouse both still love him or her. Provide consistent care and reassurance. Keep your child’s routine as normal as possible for stability post-divorce.
Preteens to Teens
If you and your spouse have children ages 10 to 17, discussing divorce may go differently than with younger children. Preteens and teens have a greater ability to understand divorce and the issues that come along with it, such as custody agreements. They can take part in a family discussion about divorce and may question parental authority. They are also more independent, with relationships outside of the family that are increasingly important.
Tell your preteen or teenager about a divorce through a family discussion. Have both parents there to break the news, if possible. First, explain that the divorce is not your child’s fault and that both parents still love him or her. Offer to answer any questions your child may have, such as about living arrangements. If your child starts to act out or exhibit signs of emotional distress, such as irritability, violence or poor performance in school, consider attending family counseling. A therapist could help your teen work through the emotions he or she is feeling because of the divorce.
Communication is key no matter what age your child is when you and your spouse are ready to divorce. Communicate openly and honestly with your child. Answer any questions or concerns your child may express about the situation or the future. Make sure your child knows he or she is loved and can ask any questions he or she wants during the divorce process.
Try to keep your child out of divorce proceedings as much as possible. Do not be afraid to ask for help from a professional family lawyer or therapist. You are not the first parent to have to announce a divorce to your child. Seek professional assistance in California to help guide your child through a divorce as easily as possible.