Nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. While this imparts much stress on the lives of the couple, it also has significant effects on the couple’s children.
Telling kids about divorce is a difficult but essential conversation. Many of the negative effects of divorce on children can be moderated by handling this conversation well.
If you’re going through a divorce with children, read on for tips on how to tell your kids in a healthy way.
Important Aspects of Telling Kids About Divorce
The way you go about telling your kids about divorce and what to expect in response will depend on their ages. However, there are some consistencies that you should pay attention to.
When going through a divorce, one of the most important things you can do is to keep arguments, legal and financial discussions, and criticisms of your spouse away from your kids. These sorts of things increase the stress your kids will experience.
Keeping both parents involved in the kids’ lives and being positive about your ex in front of them are also important to minimize their struggles.
Remember, even if things ended badly between you and your spouse, they are a vital relationship in your kids’ lives. Avoid playing sides.
Don’t lean on your kids for support, either – this can create unnecessary schisms in their relationship with the other parent. Keep your support network to friends, adult family, and therapists. Legal issues should be discussed with a family lawyer.
Finally, try to minimize disruptions to the kids’ daily lives. Do your best not to let the various steps to divorce get in the way of providing good parenting to your kids.
Having the Conversation
If possible, plan the conversation ahead of time with your spouse. Ideally, both parents should deliver the news together. If not, there should still be a discussion of what you will say.
The most important part of the conversation is reassuring your kids that the divorce is not their fault and that both parents still love them. Kids naturally see themselves to blame in these situations, so this message will need to be repeated regularly.
Be honest and answer any questions. Keep unnecessary details out of the conversation, especially if they will lead to placing blame on one parent.
Be prepared for all sorts of reactions. Listen to your kids and read between the lines when they ask questions so that you give them the reassurance they need.
Children under 5 years old will need things explained very simply and will need messages repeated more often. Kids this young see the world very egocentrically and might see themselves as being abandoned by the parent who moves out.
The priority for young kids should be on providing consistent, nurturing care and maintaining normal routines.
Children from 6-11 years old are more able to understand but still oversimplify. They might fantasize about ways to bring their parents back together.
Ensuring that they see divorce as an adult decision that they didn’t cause and can’t influence is important.
Older children can understand the issues more easily. They may feel betrayed and withdraw. Though they might show anger and moodiness or push parents away, they need support and often act out primarily to “test” how much their parents care.
Children and Divorce
Telling kids about divorce is never easy, but it’s vitally important to their development. Follow the suggestions above to ensure that you minimize the potential negative effects of the split.
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