Jul 18, 2014
Divorce can be an extremely difficult time for many adults, but also for the children of all ages that may be seemingly uninvolved and unaware. The americanbar.org podcast Talking With Your Children About Divorce guides parents through this difficult and sensitive process. Listen to the full podcast here.
While it may be wise, and even necessary, to discuss divorce with older children months prior to separation so they can prepare emotionally, the need decreases with young kids. While school-aged kids and teens may benefit from a sensitive discussion months before the event takes place, it is probably only advantageous to young preschool-aged children to give a two-week notice that there will be some changes taking place in the family. Anything beyond this, and differences in their concept of time may make it confusing for them and may eliminate any benefit a discussion would have. Take your child’s age and maturity into account when discussing divorce with them.
When explaining divorce to children, it can be especially beneficial if both parents are together, if possible, to discuss things in a non-blaming way. Children do not need to know every detail of the situation—they simply need reassurance that their physical and emotional needs will be taken care of. Just as allowing children to believe in Santa Claus isn’t a “lie,” it too can be safer for a child’s well-being to not know the ins and outs of the divorce situation, than to know and worry. Reassure your child that they will not be caught in the middle throughout the divorce process, or after separation.
3rd Party Involvement
During instances where you decide to involve a third party, such as a mentor or therapist for your child, refrain from getting overly involved in asking about discussions or telling the child what to report. This only increases the emotional stress and trauma on the child during a very sensitive time, and extinguishes your promise about not placing them in the middle.
Studies show that parental involvement after divorce tends to plummet during the first two years. This can be due to added stress, the need to work additional hours, or parents that begin dating again. Don’t forget to simply have fun with your kids and retain a loving bond with them. Refrain from discussing or inquiring about the actions of the other parent during your time with your child—try to keep your interactions as carefree and child-centered as possible.
Consistency and Compassion
Balancing parental discipline with compassion during this time is vital. While children do generally thrive on routines, familiarity, and discipline consistency, stay mindful that they are also going through a difficult time, and their actions and behaviors may sometimes be less ideal than they would be during a stable family situation. Also important is to watch for warning signs that they may be overwhelmed with juggling things in their own lives, such as sports or school, and discuss eliminating some activities, if necessary, to maintain their emotional balance as much as possible.
For more information or to listen to the full podcast, visit americanbar.org.