Talking to Kids About Divorce

Divorce is a very stressful time in a child’s life, which evokes feelings of confusion and sadness. How can parents help ease the transition for a child between having married parents to having parents that may be living separately and divorcing?

Preparation

The parent may experience anxiety before having this conversation with their child. That is perfectly normal. You and your child’s life is about to change, but it doesn’t have to be in a negative direction. Prepare the conversation. What are you going to say? How will you deal with difficult questions your child has for you about the divorce? Preparation is a great way to ease both your anxieties about this conversation and your child’s possible worries.

How to Say It

Now that you have a general idea of what you would like to say to your child about the decision, it is time to talk to your child. It is important to talk to the child about the divorce face-to-face. Letting another sibling or grandparent do the talking for you will not be beneficial for the child. The child will trust you more if you tell them yourself rather than having a messenger deliver the difficult news.

It is crucial to talk to them in a timely manner. This does not necessarily mean directly after the decision has been made to divorce your spouse. You may consider telling the child that you have some important news to tell them, and ask if it is a good time. Being able to give the child the choice of whether they would like to talk seriously at a particular time avoids the child feeling as if their parent sprung news on them and as if it came out of nowhere.

Confirm that the child knows that the divorce is strictly between his or her two parents. It is imperative that the child recognizes that the divorce is not his or her fault. It is also important for the parents to realize that this decision not only affects the couple, but the child as well. Insisting that the divorce has nothing to do with the children will avoid conjuring feelings of guilt within the child.

After the Conversation

Once you have explained the forthcoming changes in the family dynamic, it is essential for the parent not to push the child to respond right away about what you have just told them. They may need time to process what their parent has just explained to them. The parent may experience their own anxiety about this conversation with their child, but the parent should remember to push their own feelings of anxiety or nervousness aside and focus on letting their child process this change in their own way. The parents’ availability, openness, and honesty about the subject will help aid the child in handling the divorce.

Honesty is an essential component regarding the subject of divorce. Kids do not need a verbose response to why the divorce is taking place. Stick to something simple, like “Mom and Dad don’t get along anymore.” Following the conversation about your decision to divorce the children will inevitably have questions about what differences they will experience. Will they live in two houses? Will Mom and Dad continue to speak to one another? Is this because of something I have done wrong? These questions should be addressed in an age-appropriate way. How you speak to a five-year-old about divorce will be quite different than how a 15-year-old will be spoken to about this decision. An older child may need a longer explanation whereas a shorter, simpler reason will be acceptable for a younger child.

One of the golden rules of speaking to children about divorce is to avoid blaming or talking negatively about the other partner. This will only harm the child. There is a tactful way to tell the child why the divorce is happening while being respectful to your partner. You can always be honest without bad-mouthing your partner. This will teach the child how to remain respectful even in disagreements.

Explaining divorce to children causes a lot of anxiety for most parents, but it doesn’t have to. Preparation, honesty, and avoiding negativity are essential components to easing the child through this life transition. Normal reactions to divorce may include anger and sadness. Being available and honest with your child about divorce will help improve these reactions over time.

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