Tackling a divorce is one of the greatest challenges any person will ever face. Separating spouses often have to deal with a host of emotional, financial, and logistical issues both during and after divorce proceedings.
From coping with the loss of a marital relationship to determining visitation schedules and managing new budgets, divorce takes exes-to-be on a mental rollercoaster ride, often accompanied by physical manifestations of stress. Making the process even more difficult, many separating couples face an additional trial: talking to their kids about the divorce.
Questions in an Uncomfortable Conversation
Breaking the news of a divorce to children is often the most grueling experience for parents in the midst of a split. Figuring out how to approach the situation can be overwhelming. When is the right time to tell the kids? What is the best way to explain the cause of the separation? How can the children be spared from thinking the divorce is their fault? How can they be comforted and assured that they are loved, even if their parents are no longer in love?
When it comes to sharing the news of a divorce with children, it can seem like there are more questions than answers. However, there are some tried and true methods recommended by pediatric professionals for approaching this tricky situation. Following these steps can help ensure the most positive outcomes for both parents and children.
Have Age-Appropriate Conversations
When telling your kid about divorce, there are a number of factors to consider. One of the most important factors is the age of the child. Your child’s perception of the world, their ability to manage emotions, their aptitude to understand complex ideas and situations are all very dependent on their age and development. How you approach talking to kids about divorce should vary greatly depending on whether that child is 4 or 14 years old.
Advice for Toddlers
Young babies and toddlers are unlikely to be able to truly comprehend anything about the divorce process. But, as children reach preschool age, their cognition will develop to the point where simple concepts can be understood. Although limited, children between 3 to 5 years old have some ability to understand cause and effect, as well as express their feelings.
Children at this age are still highly reliant on their parents and tend to have a very self-centered worldview. As such, when talking to kids about divorce, parents of children in this age group need to remember that young children often think that the world revolves around them. Divorcing moms and dads must make assurances to preschoolers that the divorce is not the child’s fault. It is also important for parents to offer young kids as much stability and normalcy as possible. A focus on regular meal times, play times, and bedtime routines are key to achieving the best transition.
Advice for Preteen Children
For children between the ages of 6 to 12, it remains critical for parents to offer a sense of stability. Kids within this age group are beginning to develop greater independence and are capable of more complex thoughts, but intricate matters such as divorce can still be hard for them to fully understand and address.
Parents also need to be aware that even though their children might have the ability to comprehend certain concepts related to divorce, they may still be reluctant to talk about their feelings. Children within this age range may also assign blame or be upset with a particular parent whom they believe to be at fault for the breakup of the family.
When telling your kid about divorce, try to distance your child from your decision to separate. Emphasize that the choice to divorce was made by adults and that the child is not responsible for choosing sides or trying to remedy the situation.
Advice for Teens
Many parents find explaining divorce to their teenage children to be the most difficult, often due to their more developed sense of independence. They may feel the need to choose a side or attempt to distance themselves from both parents. Make it clear that you and their other parent are still willing and eager to cheer them on during sports, attend graduation, prepare them for dances/prom, and other activities important to them, even if it means seeing your former spouse.
Although teenagers do not have legal rights to decide which parent to live with following a divorce, it is important to make their wishes and opinions feel valued and appreciated.
Prepare for a conversation about your divorce with your teenager by getting a sense for what their “new normal” will look like. Explain that your divorce might mean seeing their other parent on alternating weekends & holidays, how their school schedule could be affected, and how their college tuition will be paid for.
Divorce is an uncertain time, but the more specific you can be, the easier it will be for your teenager to accept. A lingering sense of the unknown is often the most difficult to deal with.
Minimize the Child’s Exposure to Conflict
Divorce can be as hard on kids as it is on the parents. As caregivers for the collateral damage of a marital split, it is incumbent upon parents to protect children from any unnecessary trauma associated with divorce. If there is any acrimony between parents, children must be shielded from it. When talking to kids about divorce, emphasize your intention to make the divorce transition as smooth and stress-free as possible.
One easy tactic to help keep the environment calm for kids during a stormy divorce is by making sure to limit communication with your ex when exchanging the children or attending joint functions. Furthermore, children should not be used to transmit messages between feuding spouses. Although it might sometimes be inevitable, parents should make it a priority to avoid using their children as messengers, particularly if those communications are harmful or aggravating.
Respectful co-parenting will go a long way towards giving your child much needed peace of mind during a turbulent divorce. Even though it might not be your initial inclination, taking opportunities to show respectful behavior towards your ex will allow you to show your child your best self, and might also help establish the foundation for a drama-free existence with your co-parent. Seemingly insignificant steps, such as dropping off and picking up your child on time shows respect for your former spouse’s time and can help forge a better parenting relationship in the future.
Utilize Therapeutic Resources
Fortunately, there are myriad therapeutic tools available to assist you in telling your kid about divorce. Books and other media that address divorce and alternative family structures can be very helpful for young to pre-teenage children. These options are useful for demonstrating to children that they are not alone in what they are experiencing, as well as showing ways that other children and families have learned to cope with their new circumstances.
For children that have difficulty adjusting to a parental split, professional therapy could be a good option. Approximately 25% of children whose parents go through a divorce struggle with emotional and behavioral challenges. As such, all children should be given the opportunity to speak with a therapist or counselor when dealing with divorce.
Therapy may be a particularly appealing option for older children and teenagers. The ability to vent and receive input from a neutral third-party can be cathartic for young adults who may not feel comfortable expressing their feelings to their parents. Professional counseling may also be a helpful resource for parents who are having difficulty talking to kids about divorce on their own.
You Are Not Alone
If you are going through a divorce and are looking for help in talking to kids about divorce, the legal team at Ramos Law have the resources and experience to help. Contact Ramos Law Group today for compassionate and experienced legal counsel to guide you through the entire divorce process. Start with your initial consultation and get on the path to recovery for you and your family.