Breaking the news of divorce to children is painful for every parent. Children are bound to find their parents’ separation worrisome and stressful. You want to make it as easy on them as possible, so it is important to pick the right time, and to do and say the right things–and avoid certain behaviors, too.
This means remembering that your issues are not their issues. A child-parent bond is very different from an adult married relationship, and each child’s relationship with the other parent is also different from their experience with you. Don’t criticize the other parent or confide marital details to your child. Never try to get your child to take sides.
Be calm and reassuring with your child, no matter what you may be feeling. Children can cope with change, but those who feel burdened by their parent’s strong emotions may experience long-lasting anxiety and trauma.
This is normal! Instead of offering up details of the divorce that they do not need or want, focus on the things that do impact them, such as where they will live and go to school, and how much time they’ll spend with each parent. Ask them about their questions and concerns. It’s important to let kids know you are thinking of them and you care how they feel.
The ideal time to share the news is as soon as plans are in place to separate. If there are any relatives who you believe might tell your kids earlier, despite your wishes, it is best to have the talk sooner, so that they hear it from their parents first.
Sitting down with your spouse demonstrates that the divorce is a decision you’ve made together. It also sends a strong signal that you will both still be their parents, even though you won’t all be living together. This establishes a foundation for good co-parenting. Be sure to explain:
Kids often need time to process the news, and so they may not react right away. Keep checking in with them about their feelings and concerns, and keep an eye out for signs of unhappiness, grief, anger or extended withdrawal. Again, be sure not to speak negatively about the other parent or do anything to discourage the child from getting along with them.
Ask their pediatrician for a referral, or check out the many helpful resources at Kids In the Middle, a non-profit organization that supports children of divorce.
Divorce means loss and sadness for kids as well as adults, but by keeping the child’s needs in mind, there is much you can do to ensure an easier transition to a new normal. For more insight on the child’s perspective, be sure to check out our earlier blog, Kids’ Top 10 Rules of Divorce.
With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC, will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact us today.
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