Talking to Children in a Divorce

By | November 2, 2013

Divorce can be the most difficult situation for a family to handle, and for children, the most difficult to accept. For children of divorce, the reactions are mixed, and depend on the age, amongst other factors. Common feelings of children in divorce are blaming themselves for not being good enough, fear of losing one parent for good, insecurity about their daily lives being upset, anger against one or both the parents, and a feeling of loss of a family life. While settling down after the upheaval of divorce and custody of children, parents must remember that their children need them now more than ever, and will have to put aside their own feelings when dealing with them.

Talking to Children About Divorce

Being open to children in a divorce is important, and helps them to develop a reasonable understanding and expectations of the situation. A few pointers:

  • When both partners sit down to talk to their children in a divorce, it makes the children feel that their parents have both agreed upon this as the best option. Divorcing couples should avoid arguing, recrimination, and blame during this discussion; remember, this is more about the children than the marriage.
  • Depending on the age of the children in a divorce, decide beforehand what to reveal and how to phrase it. Telling a child that you’ve both decided to live apart because it’s for the best is a safe way of explaining it. For older children in a divorce, telling them that you are finding it hard to get along and have chosen to get a divorce is acceptable.
  • At this point, reassure the child that he or she will continue to belong to both parents, and both of you will continue to love him or her as before even as single parents. The most vital point to stress on for children in a divorce is that they are not responsible for the decision. Children blame themselves and will torture themselves for it for years.
  • Always talk with sensitivity about the other parent to a child. Remember, that person may not be your spouse any more, but will continue to be the child’s parent.
  • During divorce and custody of children, avoid telling a child that they are now the man or woman in the house, or that they have to grow up and be responsible can lead to ill effects that last well into adult years. Children will bottle up feelings, repress their emotions and withdraw into shells just to make a parent feel that they are handling the divorce well.
  • Encouraging children in a divorce to talk about the situation and their reactions, to meet family members and friends are all good ways of allowing children to grow naturally despite changed situations.

Children of Divorce: Dealing with the Situation

Springing the idea of divorce on children at the last minute is not fair to the child. Give them time to absorb and understand the situation, and allow questions. When a family has to take decisions on divorce and custody, children usually worry about the smaller things that will affect them directly. Often, they will ask about their day to day lives, from issues like “Will Daddy have a new family?” to even questions like “Who will make my breakfast from now on?”

Dealing With Divorce: Acknowledging The Pain

When talking to children about divorce, parents need to acknowledge the pain their children are feeling. In the midst of an emotionally difficult divorce, whether it is messy or amicable, children can feel small and unimportant, even unloved. Acknowledging that you are sad and that you know they are sad too will make it easier for them to talk. However, constantly reassure them that everything will be better soon, and draw their attention to the factors that will remain the same. Statements like “You’ll still be going to the same school even if we move, and you can have all your friends over to see your new room” will admit that there will be changes, but will provide them with a new way of looking at them.

No matter how hard parents try, sometimes it doesn’t help during a divorce. Children can be very sensitive and will find it hard to recover from a drastic change. Watch children in a divorce carefully for signs of depression and emotional issues: sliding grades, outbursts of petulance or anger, withdrawal, or other unruly behavior patterns are indications of an underlying problem. For school age children, talk to teachers about schoolwork and behavior in class. In some cases, it might help to put your child into counselling at school so that they have an impartial adult to talk to. Counselling or support groups for parents in a divorce could also provide some of the strength needed during this time.

Reference:

  1. Children and Divorce – Help Guide

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