How do children understand and react to divorce? As adults, it's often easy to forget that children view the world with different understandings and different expectations than we do. In this issue of the ezine, we discuss tips for broaching the topic with your children and for helping to maintain healthy, loving relationships with them even in the midst of turmoil.
If you'd like to learn more about this topic, you may be interested in our course "To Stay or Go? Healthy Marital Separation" (FON 309). This course explores how self-awareness, personal development and one's family of origin influence the choices partners make about remaining in a relationship with another person or separating. You will learn to identify what constitutes a marriage that can be salvaged and when to dissolve a marriage safely while minimizing damage to all parties. Group activities will focus on ways to talk to children of all ages about separation and divorce if the parents decide to take that course of action. Registration information, as well as details about our other courses and community events, can be found on our summer schedule. We hope to see you soon!
CHILDREN AND DIVORCE
by Rachelle Lipschultz
Talking with children about divorce
How a child reacts to his parents’ divorce will depend a great deal on how they tell him about it. Therefore, it is important to put a lot of thought into how to tell children about this life-changing event. If at all possible, plan to meet as a family. This way, both parents will be there to answer your children’s questions. The two of you need to talk ahead of time to figure out how out what you will tell your children, what you will keep private, and how you will address the issue. Whatever you do, stay calm during this discussion. The more upset you get, the more you will upset your children. Regardless of what you’re feeling inside, they need to see that you will be stable forces in their lives.
Other tips for this initial discussion
- Don’t feel you need to provide kids with all the details. Let them know about the parts that are relevant to them, but don’t overload them. Even if your child asks tough questions (“Did Daddy have an affair?”), you are not bound to tell the whole truth. (And remember, just because children hear words like “cheating” and “affair” on TV doesn’t mean they know what those words actually mean! So before you answer, it would be wise to first find out what your child knows or thinks.)
- Young children have difficulty processing a lot of information at one time. Keep your explanations simple, and let further discussion be guided by their questions.
- Divorce involves a lot of change. Kids also need to be aware of what will stay the same—that somebody will still feed them and care for them, that they’ll still get to see both parents often (if true).
- Avoid giving false hope that mom and dad will reunite. It may allay your children’s fears in the short term, but in the long term it will only lead to more heartache as your child’s hopes are dashed yet again.
- Reassure kids it’s not their fault. This may be obvious to you, but to a child it isn’t. Imagine being a young child, sneaking a cookie when nobody’s looking, feeling guilty about it, and then finding out that night that mommy and daddy are splitting up. To a child, it may seem entirely reasonable to think that this is punishment for what she did earlier in the day.
- Recognize that feelings of loss and anger are normal. Don’t say things to your children such as “don’t be sad,” because this just sends the message that their emotions are wrong or not valued. No matter how negative your feelings may be toward each other, you are both still parents to your child.
- Don’t make the discussion a one-time event—let them think about the divorce and come to you with new questions.
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