For parents confronting divorce, one of the first challenges you’ll face is how to talk to your children about the impending breakup. Family separation is a highly emotional experience for everyone, especially children who may feel shocked, sad, or angry. By offering support and patience, you can help your children navigate the unfamiliar circumstances and minimize tension.
The way you talk to your children about divorce depends on their age and maturity. It’s important to be truthful but kid-friendly with your explanation. Keep your answers simple and straightforward for younger children. Avoid giving them too much information that is difficult to process.
The most critical issues to discuss are the changes your children will experience in everyday life, such as a change of residence or one parent leaving the family home. Logistical information about any changes to living arrangements, school, or activities is far more significant to them than the reasons why you and your spouse are separating.
There’s no one best way to help your child cope with divorce or separation but it’s crucial to avoid disparaging your spouse. The conflict between parents can be damaging for children and they should never be put in the middle of your fights or feel they have to choose one parent’s side. You’ll want to present a united front by agreeing in advance on a straightforward explanation about why the marriage is ending.
A child’s reaction to divorce can vary depending on age and developmental levels. Some may cry and beg for reconciliation. Others may act out. And some may become quiet and withdrawn. While you can’t control your child’s reaction you can reduce conflict with your spouse. Act as a consistent and nurturing parent by making sure both you and your spouse remain involved with supporting your children, regardless of how they are reacting to the divorce.
It’s also best to keep information about legal proceedings and meetings with lawyers among adults along with your personal feelings about your spouse as you go through the divorce process.
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 divorce is not their fault and that both you and your spouse love them, irrespective of the divorce. If necessary, seek support that is available through many religious communities, a school counselor, or a family therapist.
It’s important to take care of yourself so that you can help your children through this difficult time. Seek professional counseling or turn to the adults in your life as a source of support to meet your own emotional needs. By learning how to cope with the loss of your relationship you’ll be better equipped to help your children work through their emotions. With your support, your children will feel more at ease and you can emerge from the divorce process with an even stronger bond.
By Debra Schoenberg