Talking to Kids About Divorce: What You Should Know
While divorce is difficult on every member of a family, children often take the longest to adjust to the changes. If possible, speak with your spouse to agree on what information the children are to be given about the divorce. It is always wise to seek professional guidance. If agreement is not possible try to delay advising the children until after obtaining professional guidance from a qualified counselor, psychologist, or parenting expert.
While children will have questions about how a divorce will affect their lives, parents should avoid discussing the details of the case with children, including the conduct or alleged conduct of the other party, asking children to pick parents, read pleadings, or become involved in the case. You do not want children to be scarred by what they are told. We cannot stress enough how important it is to think about what the children need to know about the divorce and what information should be kept for the parties only. Court’s often take a dim view of one party trying to influence the children against the other party.
Keep in mind that children at different developmental levels will have different understandings of the meaning of divorce. Here are some things to consider:
- Keep it simple. Your children should not be a sounding board for adult problems that aren’t their fault or responsibility. Tell your child what is going on, but leave out details that they may not understand or don’t really need to know about. This could lead to confusion or potentially make them feel like they did something to cause the divorce when in reality these issues are outside of their control.
- Reassure your child that they are not to blame. Children may feel as though their parents’ split was their fault. When talking to your child, assure them that your decision has nothing to do with anything they did, and let them know that they will always have the love and support of both of their parents no matter what.
- Make yourself available to talk. Obtain professional guidance. After you have told your child about your plans to divorce, you should expect them to have questions and sometimes worries. Make sure that you pay attention to both their immediate reactions and how they handle the information in the coming weeks and months. Make sure your child knows that you are available to talk to them (with limits per above) and comfort them when they need it.
- Avoid criticizing your spouse in front of your child. Divorce is an emotional process, but keep your feelings of anger or bitterness far away from your children. Children have enough to worry about without having to feel like one of their parents is to blame for what is happening to the family, or that one of their parents is no longer worthy of love. This could really end up hurting your child in the long run, and their happiness and wellbeing should be the number one focus. Also, from a legal standpoint, badmouthing your soon-to-be ex in front of your children can also complicate your case, especially if custody is contested.