Divorce can be a traumatic experience for your children. No matter how old they are, the divorce will be hard for them to understand and eventually to accept. Some children in fact harbor hopes that their parents will get back together even after several years of living apart.
Many children feel that they are the ones at fault when their parents break up. Although this may seem illogical to adults, children can find associations in the most incongruous of things. As often attested by revelations during therapy, children often feel that they could have done something to prevent the break-up in the family. There are those “what ifs” and “could have beens.” If they were good and obedient children, would they have prevented the split? If they did not get into trouble in school, would their parents stay together?
One of the crucial moments that parents should take note of and prepare themselves is the way that they will break the news to their children. Although explaining it properly will not necessarily lessen the pain of knowing that their parents will be splitting up but at least a proper explanation will help prevent misunderstandings especially in what caused the break up in the first place.
Remember that young children are very impressionable. Everything that you do, whether you want them to see or not, can mean something. It is important that you tell them what’s going on to avoid misrepresentations.
Below are some tips on how to break the news of the divorce to your kids.
Never make them feel that they have to choose.
Divorce is a traumatic experience as it is without asking the children to choose sides. This will put them right in the middle of marital trouble. This is not fair because the kids are not really part of the problems that you and your partner are having. Pressuring them to judge who is right and wrong can worsen the trauma that they will be experiencing.
Still, during custody battles, choosing sides cannot be avoided. Although in some cases, especially if the children are a bit older, they are asked to choose which parents they would rather live with.
Never badmouth your partner.
Remember that whatever happens, your partner is still a part of their lives, someone who they need to respect and love. Whatever troubles that you have in your relationship should not affect the children in any way. As long as your partner is doing his best to provide for the kids and is a good father, there is no need for them to know what a rotten person he can be sometimes.
Although your children will not necessarily understand completely what is going on, there is no need to create fantastical explanations. Just tell them the truth, that you are going to start living apart and they may have to live with each of you separately or live with one parent for the rest of their lives.
Consider their feelings and try to talk to them about it Divorce can be painful for the couple as they are the ones directly involved but you must remember that kids are very vulnerable and they are not as resilient as adults.
It is not enough that you tell them what’s going on. You also have to ask them what their feelings are about what happened. This way, you are able to address their fears and insecurities right then and there.
As mentioned before, kids often feel that it is their fault that their parents are breaking up. You have to reassure them that this is not true and they were not in any way at fault.
Tell them that it’s ok for them to talk to you about it.
Children will have questions about what happened. They might not be able to verbalize it just yet but they will eventually reveal what bothers them about the situation. Encourage them to come and talk to you if they have additional questions. Tell them that it’s ok for them to tell you how they feel and they will be very much welcome to ask you anything they want. Keeping the communications line open will help ease the tension and clear up a lot of potential sources of misunderstandings.
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Lisa M. McNally
Certified Divorce & Health Coach
Certified Divorce & Family Mediator
Certified Divorce Financial Analyst