Parents preparing to help their kids cope with divorce need to be careful with how they approach this delicate subject. If the situation is handled poorly, it may continue to affect the children in the future.
Planning for the Conversation
When parents tell their children that they are going through a divorce, they are starting one of the most impactful conversations in their children’s lives. Much like how a person’s first impression will set the tone for how people experience them from then on, how parents choose to introduce their divorce to their children will create the tone for the separation forever.
Responsible parents should plan the tone and content of the conversation. It could be helpful to speak to a therapeutic professional prior to the conversation about how best to introduce the information.
The Parents Should Tell the Kids Together
It is imperative to the well-being of the children that both parents present a united front when talking about divorce. If one parent is absent from the conversation, it could create questions or concerns in the children’s minds. This could create further problems if the children receive different answers when they later ask the absent parent about the specifics of the divorce.
Not Ascribing Blame to the Divorce When Talking to the Children
There are some cases where one parent really is at fault for the divorce. If someone had an affair or decided to abandon the family, it is often clear who is to blame. But the divorce should not be described to the children in those terms.
When divorcing with kids, it is best for parents to describe the decision to split up in “we” terms. For instance, “We aren’t happy being married anymore,” or, “We think it would be better for the family if we separated.” If the divorce comes off as a battle the children may feel forced to choose sides, which is not healthy for their development.
Making It Clear What Will Change and What Will Stay the Same
When it comes to a divorce, most kids, especially very young ones, are more concerned about the practical issues of long-distance parenting than anything else. “Who will I live with?” “Where will we spend the holidays?” “Will I still go to the same school?” These are likely to be the questions a parent hears when he or she first discusses divorce with his or her children.
Parents should know exactly what will change and what will not change in the children’s lives when they talk to them about divorce. It is important that the parents ask themselves what they can and cannot promise. Promises made that cannot be kept may cause additional damage.
Assuring the Child That This Is Not His or Her Fault
A child’s perception of the world is very insular, as though every occurrence revolves around him or her. When facing divorce, it is very common for a child to blame himself or herself. Responsible parents need to give their kids sincere and frequent confirmation that the situation was not their fault.